No matter how many classes you take in archaeology, nothing will compare to working in the field. This summer I interned with TVAR, Tennessee Valley Archaeological Research, which is a contract archaeology firm based in Huntsville, Alabama. First, a little background on Cultural Resource Management and why we need companies like TVAR. Cultural Resource Management involves a variety of professions whose goals are to protect items, either physical like tools or symbolic like folklore, belonging to or representing past peoples or groups. Federal historical preservation laws require that these resources be protected, hence the need for CRM firms.
TVAR is a CRM firm that works with clients who are responsible for performing such tasks as laying new power lines, for example. These clients are required to follow historic preservation laws and are therefore required to consult with companies such as TVAR. Before these construction projects begin, or when modifications need to be made to pre-existing structures, TVAR will complete a survey of the land to determine if there are any archaeological sites in the area. Teams of between four and 20 field technicians along with crew chiefs go to these areas and perform shovel tests to sample for any items of cultural value, including glass, ceramics, stone tools or flakes, and other indicators of past occupation. Once a site is found, TVAR may complete a full excavation of the area, meaning that features are uncovered and the full extent and past use of the site is analyzed. While working with TVAR I was primarily involved in surveys.
While I worked for TVAR I had the opportunity to meet and work with so many dedicated archaeologists. Being surrounded by a positive, encouraging team really made the days with heat indexes up to 106 degrees not only bearable but enjoyable. Not to overly sugar coat things, the work was hard. You work nine hour days and every day is a full body workout. You start to feel sore in places you didn’t know existed. But nothing is more satisfying than increasing your shovel test time, nothing. Most of the time we worked under power lines, as shown in the picture below. Regardless of the sun and the heat and the muscle aches, I cannot stress enough the fantastic comradery that you develop with your team mates and how much that improves the work. A word of advice to anyone going into CRM: keep an open mind and stay flexible.
TVAR as a company focuses on the scientific integrity of their work. The methods that are employed to maintain provenience of items found are the same methods taught during survey field schools. In many ways working with TVAR felt like a continuation of the survey field school I recently completed with Mississippi State University, as exemplified in the use of the Globe soil color test books (see photo below). I also learned new archaeological techniques. In this photo is an example of something new I had never done before, a squared shovel test (see photo below). This was used to examine stratigraphic changes in the soil. There is always something new to learn with TVAR.
I would highly recommend that anyone interested in any kind of archaeology spend some time in CRM. It will give you a new understanding and respect for archaeology as a discipline and really help you to understand why certain methods are used and why other were discontinued. If you are interested in Southeastern archaeology I also highly recommend working for TVAR. They are a wonderful company and they employ amazing people. This summer with TVAR was full of very hard work but was extremely informative I wouldn’t have traded it for anything.
By: Cate McAlpine