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  • Writer's pictureIsabelle Johnsen

Legally Protecting Yourself as a CRM Archeologist

*Trigger warning, guys*

About a month ago, I learned about the tragic death of a CRM worker, and it triggered me so badly that I didn’t have the strength to write or talk about it until now. I have just seen a TikTok video by @archeothot (linked below), which I believe simplified the situation too much. As I wasn’t comfortable with all of this commentary on the situation, I felt like I had to write about it and share my perspective.

Kaylen Eileen Gehrke, age 24, died on Monday, July 11th, 2022, from heat stroke while working as a field archeologist for the Shreveport Cultural Resource Analyst company in Kisatchie National Forest in Natchitoches Parish, Louisiana.

When I found out what had happened, via an old coworker texting me, I was so triggered and upset. Around this time last year, I was working with a CRM company that sent me– completely untrained, afraid, with no idea what to expect– to Kisatchie National Forest. While working there, I was convinced I was going to die on multiple occasions. There were several incidents each day, for days in a row. I remember praying to each and every divine entity I could think of to save my life and get me out of there safely; bargaining with them, “if you help get me out of here alive, I will stop doing X Y Z” or “I promise to be a better person if you help me live through this.” Then, there were times when I was about to physically collapse from exhaustion, where I couldn’t even feel my own body or the tears running down my face, and I just begged anyone/anything to give me the strength to make it out of that brush safely. Each and every day, for ten days, when we would break through the brush, I would thank whatever powers just helped me survive.

When I found out about Kayleen Eileen Gehrke, I cried because I felt guilty that I had survived the same situation she had just died in. I cried because I knew what it felt like to be so scared of not making it out of that forest. I cried for her co-workers who had to see their teammate die in front of their eyes, knowing it could have been them. I cried for all of the young archeologists, who are just kids like me, with dreams of studying past people who are being taken advantage of by these big CRM companies. They are abused, I was abused, and I won’t sugar coat it anymore.

Things that I have posted about my CRM experience thus far have been pretty vague or ambiguous for two reasons. I was afraid of what my old coworkers would think of me. There is such a toxic “if I did it, then you can do it too, or you aren’t as good of an archeologist as I am” attitude in the firm I worked for that standing “up” for yourself or saying no, quickly becomes more complicated than it might seem to an outsider. It was only the first day I heard about how neglectful management was, stories of ignored safety precautions, and horror stories of 10-day trips to Kasachie where field teams were worked to the bone under brutal conditions. These stories were not told to me to share experiences but rather warnings to quit and get out when I could, especially since I had the privilege to survive without the income.

I was told multiple times, “management doesn't care who you are or where you are going to school. To them, you are nothing but a replaceable warm body,” or “you aren’t going to survive here if you can’t handle these types of comments or conditions,” or “if you think this place is bad, you have no idea what you go through at other firms.” To add to the messed-up power dynamics, all of the management at this company was male, and almost all– except two– of the field workers were cis-gender females. This power dynamic made it even more complicated because to prove that we could handle this typically deemed “man’s”/physical work, we all had to act a lot tougher, put up with more sexist comments, and accept a lot more shit than we would have if we were men.

The neglectful management and history of unresolved concerns caused the senior team members to adopt the kind of attitude they had to survive the job. They rolled their eyes at the complaints of us newbies because it was very much the philosophy of “I went through something worse than that, and management didn’t care; why should they listen to you, you just got here.” This attitude intensifies over 10-days, when management would send out teams of field workers to various locations to work for ten days straight, often in hazardous heat and conditions. When I was on my first and last ten-day, all I cared about was my “team's” opinion. We would go in and out of hell together, alone in a forest and cheap, rundown hotel in the middle of nowhere for 10 days. Later it hit me that while I was there, I lost grip of reality. I remember calling my dad and telling him I was scared, to which he responded, “Okay, so quit already,” and I answered, “I don’t want to let my team down or do more work for them.” I was afraid of what they would think of me if I quit; I was worried that if I didn’t have what it took to complete the 10 days, I would never have what it would take to be a “real” archeologist. I was afraid of making them angry, and the most obvious one, I was afraid of losing my job. It was the first good job offer I had gotten after graduating during the pandemic, and a professor from my undergrad highly recommended it; I thought maybe I was just being a baby and that I would have to suck it up to prove to myself I could do it.

My co-workers weren’t bad people. Many of them were fantastic people who I still keep in touch with. This was just the firm's attitude; everyone made fun of girls who quit on the second or first day into a ten-day period. And honestly, to fit in, I did it too and acted similarly because I didn’t understand what was going on and was scared to speak out. I didn’t realize it at the moment, but we were all just going through cycles of normalizing the abuse, thus perpetuating it, to survive what we were convinced we HAD to be considered “archeologists.”

The second reason I have been sugar-coating my personal experience is that I was afraid of legal repercussions from the company, which is why I still won’t say their name, as well as the professional implications it could have on my career. I was afraid, and still am, that my seniors in academic archeology would think of me as a “cry baby” or “whistleblower.” I was scared, but when I saw @archeothot’s TikTok and realized how easily Kayleen’s tragedy or others like hers could be simplified and/or turned into a quick thirty-second video, I knew I wanted to post something. I have no idea what circumstances were involved in Kayleen’s tragedy. However, I do know that horrific sh*t goes on within CRM companies in Louisiana, and after watching that video, I felt the need to share my own experience and raise awareness of issues that lead to tragic accidents like this one.


The following are examples of things I experienced in the field during the short two months that I worked for the company, and I believe most of the events were preventable IF O.C.E.A.N.A. regulations were being followed and IF new and old employees were formally trained in Wilderness First Aid, field terrain training, and CPR.

While working on Phase III, I saw archeologists digging holes more than 3 feet without sturdy scaffolding or any type of scaffolding, as well as numerous trip violations. I had heard from co-workers that these violations were repeatedly brought up to the project manager only to be ignored.

While working on Phase I, I was in charge of grabbing buckets of strata from the archeologist working in the privy (aka I was holding buckets of 18th c poop), which was extremely deep and dangerous. When I told the project manager I felt uncomfortable grabbing the buckets from the other employee because the ground I was standing on was starting to erode into the privy, he nailed carpets to the ground so it would be less slippery. Despite the vocal protest of the assistant project manager, other employees, and myself, the project manager seemed satisfied with this safety precaution. Also, I had been pressured by the same projected manager into eating a clover from the ground around the privy. After repeatedly saying no, I gave in to his persistence, and he laughed hysterically, thus making me think he did this often to newbies as a hazing ritual.

Furthermore, I was sent on a ten-day trip to Kisatchie National forest without ever being asked if I had completed the mandatory CPR training, which I had not. On the first day, we went to the field, and I stepped on a hornet’s nest on my first transect. My crew chief ran up to me around when I had gotten most of the hornets off me and had already run away from the nest, and he asked me if I was allergic to bees. I told him that my dad was very allergic, and I was not sure about myself, so he pulled out his company first aid kit to look for Benadryl. Unfortunately, neither he nor I had been given any Benadryl in the company emergency kit. Luckily, we had taken another crew chief’s truck, and my crew chief was able to contact her and ask to use her personal Benadryl in the car. When we got to the truck, I took some Benadryl, and then my crew chief seemed unsure about what to do. He asked me if my throat felt swollen and if I felt okay to work. I was still uncertain about the number of times I was stung. Later, I counted ~25-30 possible welts, although it was difficult to tell, considering all my other injuries from the brush on my body. I felt like my crew chief expected me to keep working, and this was confirmed when I answered that I didn’t know how I was feeling, and he said I “seemed” fine to work. Neither he nor I had received adequate training to know signs of an allergic reaction beyond throat closing.

On the second day, I began experiencing what I thought was heat stroke because I was shaky, dizzy, had the chills, and felt extremely nauseous. I assumed the heat stroke was an inevitable symptom of pushing my body beyond its limit through hazardous terrain. I had run out of water and was working through a 120-degree heat wave in Louisiana. My crew chief was highly insensitive to my condition and continued to push me despite my objections and the other co-worker defending me, saying we needed to call it quits for that day. It was only after the 10 days ended and I had gone to urgent care during my day off, that I had found out by a doctor that these symptoms were likely the result of an allergic reaction to the venom from the hornet stings and that I should not have been working while experiencing those symptoms.

On the third day, I went through wall-high thorn vines and accidentally stepped on a second hornet’s nest. I got stung in the back of my leg at least once. Since the second nest, the pain from my allergic reaction was excruciating and continued to worsen throughout the rest of the ten days until I got treatment from a doctor. Management reluctantly agreed to give me one day off (with no pay) after my third day. I believe this was due to the pleas of my co-workers passed on to the project manager via another project manager, who in reality was terrified I would quit if they didn’t give me the day off, thus leaving my team one man down when the overall company had already experienced so many employees quitting within the last three months. Despite their awareness of my experiences of severe pain, dizziness, and nausea from the daily field reports, management was apparently pissed at me and gossiping about it back at the office when I took the day off.

When I returned to the office, the project manager publicly– in front of the whole office– tried to encourage me to return to Kasachie and said, “it would get better my second time around,” and did not mention receiving the ARC/CPR/Wilderness survival training. Management was well aware of the experience I had while on the project, and their dismissal of my injuries and their lack of concern led me to believe I had no choice but to quit for my own physical safety.

There was little to no training for new archeologists. I was never formally taught how to use my shovel or screen to push shrubbery or vines out of the way. I was never informed ahead of time how to fill out paperwork or even that an injury form existed. I was never taught how and what to avoid in that type of terrain (what a hornet’s nest looks like, what kind of snakes to avoid, etc.), and I was never told what to do in an emergency (if I got lost, attacked by a boar, if I got stuck in a forest hole, etc.). Management had every resource available to detect my level of training: CV, academic history, and research interests. I had only done a field school for an underwater survey in Spain and worked on ceramic analysis in Greece. Management knew of my lack of field experience when they hired me. They also knew I was from out of state and that I would only work for the company for a few months. They made it clear they didn’t care about my experience, and when I emailed the company owner to discuss my time at his company, I received no response.


From my own experience working at this company, I know how hard it can be to “say no” to your boss when he asks you to continue working in dangerous conditions. From hearing stories from the crew team, I realized that many of my co-workers were unaware that, in many stories they had told me, management was neglectful with their safety and occasionally even liable. I have heard stories where field archeologists were pressured into signing legal documents after certain events, from what sounds like little to no explanation by management of what they were signing. While working there, I realized that during my entire undergraduate and master's training, I had not once received education on one, legal/institutional protections archeologists are provided when on fieldwork, and two, how to differentiate illegal practices versus just unethical ones. Now, fellow archeologists, I am in no way equipt to give you legal advice… because I, most likely like you, did not go to law school. However, I have provided some resources that I have found which may help you arm yourself with knowledge before walking into your next ten-day. Hopefully, these resources can help you gain a better insight into codes and violations in the field, so in this case, if you have to tell your boss you feel unsafe on the job, you can use these resources to back you up!

Labor and Employment Law Pro Bono Web Resources


  2. United States Department of Labor- OSHA Worker Rights and Protections


      1. “If you believe working conditions are unsafe or unhealthful, you may file a complaint with OSHA concerning a hazardous working condition at any time. If possible, bring the conditions to your employer's attention. If the condition clearly presents a risk of death or serious physical harm, there is not sufficient time for OSHA to inspect, and, where possible, a worker has brought the condition to the attention of the employer, the worker may have a legal right to refuse to work in a situation in which he or she would be exposed to the hazard. If you have questions about what to do, contact your local OSHA office. We will keep your information confidential. We are here to help you.” (OSHA)

  3. OSHA Workers Rights Booklet


What You Are Entitled to as a CRM Technician from your Company:


    1. What Your Employer Takes From You (

      1. “Your employer will try to take your dignity, but that is a cheap commodity compared to the federally guaranteed Labor Rights your employer will try to deny you. Your employers will routinely deny you the following rights without fail.”

    2. OSHA Rights (

      1. Your right to a safe and healthful workplace includes:

        1. A Posted Safety Plan, Regular Safety Meetings,

        2. Adequate Drinking Water or Toilet Facilities,

        3. Adequate access to Emergency Responders

        4. Adequate protection in deep excavations

        5. Adequate Shelter from severe weather

        6. Safe transportation to remote job sites

    3. Wage and Hour Rights (

      1. Your right to legal compensation for your work:

      2. Prevailing Wage for work on federal contracts, the national average is $15/ hour for this work

      3. Holiday pay on all federal contracts

      4. Mandatory benefits on federal contracts

      5. Time- and-a-half for all overtime hours on all jobs

Laws Relating to CRM Archeology:

More resources on general CRM:

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