#90 Shovelbums Guide Part 13: Educational Choices

Amethyst Glass Bottle Base, UtahLet me spare you the suspense: you need a BA or a BS and a field school to work in CRM archaeology.  That’s it.  The rest is details.  Well, there are a lot of details and variations to obtaining those two requirements.  Let’s talk about them.  First, though, I’m going to go on a tangent (in case you don’t know, it’s a math term.  I like math, as you’ll see later).

Some would say that taking an anthropology class is an “easy A”.  It’s a quick way to get your general education requirements out of the way so you can move on to “more interesting” things.  Well, that’s mostly true.  Why is it true?  Because deep down, everyone wants to be an archaeologist.  It’s true, not because the classes are easy, but because they are interesting and engaging.

A few people will attend their first archaeology or anthropology class with the intention of becoming the next Dr. Jones, complete with a tweed jacket and an office filled with artifacts (until they realize that he’s a grave robber and a criminal).  A number of us, though, approached archaeology in other ways.  Some leisurely take classes without a clear objective in mind and then, all of the sudden, they graduate and have know idea what to do next.  Others, like myself, took arch/anthro classes to fill in the general education requirements while pursuing another degree, but with a difference.  I continued to take anthro classes throughout my time in college.  After four years and changing majors twice I found that there was one remaining constant in my life: anthro classes.  Through all of my aviation classes (I started as a commercial aviation major), then my photography classes (because it’s fun!), and my math classes (brief flirtation with higher level math.  Stop laughing! Math is fun!), I had always taken one more anthro class.  I had at least one anthro-related class for every semester I was in college.

So, over the summer before my last year, I decided to pursue an anthropology degree and formally declare my major.  I don’t know whether the Dept. Head was thrilled or worried (I always asked a lot of questions and held up class, I’m sure).  She was the best instructor I had though and I’m sure she thought I was the best student ever!  Anyway, I had taken so many anthro classes already that two semesters at 15 credits each of higher level classes would complete my degree.

After a very tough year of papers and research I received my shinny new Bachelor of Arts Degree in Anthropology.  To celebrate, I went straight to work as a day laborer for my brother’s father-in-law’s home remodeling company.  My degree really came in handy while I was making trash runs to the dump.  I was able to understand the stratigraphy in the piles of garbage and I was able to understand the culture of the various people working in that fine establishment. 

Wait.  This post is about education requirements for CRM.  I got off track.  Long story short: I found out about Shovelbums in October of the following Autumn, started my first job in early November, and never looked back.

I’m not going to go into archaeology/anthropology programs at various universities.  Presumably, most of the people that would read this blog are either in school right now or are already out of school.  For those that are still in school, I will talk about field schools.

I had no interest in the field school offered by the University of North Dakota.  Looking back on it, I should have done it.  I didn’t know how much it would have helped me with those first few jobs.  The first thing you have to decide when deciding which field school to attend is, what do you want to do with your career?  Do you want to be an academic or is CRM the right path for you?  Those aren’t the only options but they are the two big ones.  I know a lot of people that went to field schools in exotic places like South America and Utah (don’t laugh. South America is exotic.).  I’m no exception.  I went on an Earthwatch Expedition to Tanzania and participated in the excavation of two trenches in Olduvai Gorge looking for early man.  It was fascinating but didn’t teach me much about CRM in the U.S.

There is value in attending a field school abroad, of course.  It opens up your mind to other cultures and lifeways and puts you in an unfamiliar environment.  It’s a great experience to have.  However, if you’ve decided on CRM, a more practical field school might be in order.  There are plenty of field schools that will teach you all about shovel testing, excavation, Munsell Color Books, taking notes, taking GOOD notes, field photography, and drawing.  Some will even get you experience on a Total Station or with a sub-meter GPS.  Those are invaluable skills to have in CRM and will get you a bit more security.  The founder of, R. Joe Brandon, puts out a field school guide on the Shovelbums website every year in the early Spring.  It gives you plenty of time to find a school and make plans to attend.

Contrary to what I thought in college (since I didn’t think to ask), you don’t have to be enrolled at the college that is offering the field school, in most cases.  Just find a field school that you want to attend, apply, and see what happens.  I’d bet they prefer to admit students from the home university but I don’t have any hard data on that.

So, if you want a career in CRM, or at least want to give it a try, get that BA in anthropology, archaeology, history, or something else that’s related.  Then, go to a field school, preferably one that will teach you helpful skills that you can use later (or, just go have fun and learn on the job if you are smart enough to do so).  Finally, check out my earlier posts on applying for jobs (click on the Shovelbums Guide tag at the bottom of this post), and start digging (or walking, or sitting in a truck, or drinking beer by the pool)!

Hey, before you decide on a glamorous career in CRM, check out the blog, Doug’s Archaeology, for some great stats on what your pay will be like.  Keep in mind that pay differs dramatically across the country.  I started at $10 an hour in western Minnesota.  I’ve made as much as $20 an hour out west.  So, keep that in mind.

See you in the field…

#30 Day of Archaeology, Part 1: The Road to Nevada Archaeology

(The following is my first post for the Day of Archaeology Event for July 29, 2011.  Here is the link)

This is my first post for the Day of Archaeology event.  I’d like to begin by thanking the organizers, advisors, and sponsors for conceiving of and making this event happen.  It’s important that we discuss archaeology across the world and get our work out to a broad audience.  All most people know about archaeology is what they see on the Discovery Channel or from Indiana Jones.

The road I took to get to a career in archaeology involved several u-turns and a few speed bumps.  Here is a quick history.  When I was a kid I wanted to be an astronaut, an airline pilot, or an archaeologist.  Since my family didn't have the money for me to realize any of those goals I did what I thought was the next best thing and joined the Navy right out of high school.  I spent the next four and a half years working on EA-6B Prowlers as an aviation electronics technician.  During that time I went on a cruise on the USS Enterprise for six months in the Mediterranean and in the Persian Gulf.  We saw some great cities with great archaeology and history.  At this time, archaeology was something you saw on TV and included crusty old PhDs working in universities.  I never considered it as a career.

Near the end of my time in the Navy a random phone call landed me in commercial flight training at the Spartan School of Aeronautics in Tulsa, Oklahoma.  While there I received my private pilot's license and finished the training for a few other licenses.  After a year and a half I transferred to the University of North Dakota to continue my flight training at the nations largest and most advanced collegiate flight training school.  UND Aerospace has an amazing program with state of the art aircraft and flight simulators.  It was a great experience.

While I was taking aviation classes I filled up my general education requirements with anthropology classes.  I still loved the science of archaeology, in particular paleoanthropology, but still didn't see it as a career option.  I'm not sure why.  I think it was still just one of those fantasy fields that you never think you are capable of performing.  

After a couple of years I started to lose my desire to fly commercially.  I just didn't think I would get any satisfaction from shuttling people around the country for the rest of my life.  Sure the pay is good but there are a lot of things you can do that involve less stress if all you want is money.  I need a job that makes me feel good at the end of the day and that I look forward to going to everyday.  Since I still didn't see archaeology as an option, even though I had taken most of the classes offered, I spent the next couple of years taking photography and math classes just for fun.  I know, I like math.  I'm probably the only CRM archaeologist that has used SOHCAHTOA to determine the exact angle for a transect.

During my penultimate year in college my professor, Dr. Melinda Leach, told me that I could graduate in one year with a degree in anthropology.  I just had to take all of the upper level classes and that would be it.  With no other direction I decided to go for it.  I had to take 18 credits during the fall and 15 credits during the spring and write, I think, five or six research papers during the year but in the end I graduated.  After graduation I went back to Seattle and worked with my brother's father in law's home remodeling company.  I hated it.

In the fall I went back to North Dakota to help with the big event that the department had planned the previous year.  We had Jane Goodall coming to speak to a packed house.  One day, while sitting in the student lounge, a former student, and friend, came up to me and said hi.  He was visiting because hurricane Katrina had destroyed his apartment in New Orleans and his company laid everyone off for a little while.  He asked what I was doing.  At the time I was getting ready to go on an Earthwatch expedition to dig in Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania.  After that I had no plans.  He asked if I had checked Shovelbums.  Shovel what?

I educated myself on, prepared my CV, and started on a job in Minnesota a week after I returned from Africa.  That was in October of 2005 and I've been in CRM ever since.  I've worked at all times of the year, on all phases of field archaeology and in 13 states.

In August of 2009 I began a one year MS program at the University of Georgia.  The program was intense but I received my Master of Science in Archaeological Recourse Management in July of 2010.  I'm currently working in the Great Basin of Nevada and love every minute of it!

So, I guess that wasn't too brief.  My fiancé will tell you that brevity is not a trait that I possess.  Hopefully someone will get out of this that it's never too late and you are never too old to get into the dynamic field of anthropology.   There are many paths that you can take to get to anthropology and there are just as many that you can take along your career.

My Chief in the Navy once told me how he decides whether a job or a position is right for him.  He said to look around at the people that have been doing your job and are at the ends of their careers.  Are they happy?  Are they doing what you would want to do?  My favorite thing about archaeology is that you can't really tell what the future will bring.  You could be running a company, teaching at a university, or hosting your own show on the Discovery Channel, if they ever get back to science and history shows and away from reality shows.  The possibilities are nearly endless.

In my next post I'll talk about the project I'm on right now and the wonders of monitoring.


Written northeast of Winnemucca, NV


From the Dictionary of Archaeology, Peguin Reference, 2004, an entry chosen using a random number generator Pg 227, entry 2:

Issyk Mound a so-called 'royal' KURGAN of the SCYTHIAN period, which was constructed in the 4th-3rd centuries BC by one of the SAKA tribes.  The site is 50 km (31 miles) east of Almaty, in Kazakhstan.  It was excavated in 1969-70 by K. Akishev.  The kurgan was 6 m (20 ft) high and 60 m (66 yds) in diameter.  When the mound was removed, two graves appeared: the central one had been completely ravaged in ancient times, but the lateral one (to the south) had remained intact.  The lateral grave's chamber [measurments ommited] was constructed of logs.  In the southern and western parts of the chamber were found thirty-one ceramic, wooden, bronze and silver vessels, while the northern part contained the remains of a deceased nobleman, seventeen-eighteen years old, lying on his back on a board floor with his head to the west.  The discoveries also included more than 4,000 golden plaques that decorated his costume, footwear and a tall conical head-dress.  Many of the adornments are executed in the scythean-siberian animal style.  Because of these incredibly rich adornments, the grave's occupant was dubbed the 'Golden Man' by archaeologists.  There was also iron weaponry (an acinaces and a sword inlaid with gold-plating) and a bronze mirror lying by the man's belt.

#16: Passion

What does it mean to have passion for what you do?  I’ve always thought that you are doing what you love when you would do it for free.  If all of your bills were paid and money was no object, would you still do what you do?  The Life is Good motto, “Do What You Like, Like What You Do” comes to mind.

There have been times in this field where I’ve practically lived in my car and didn’t have enough money to do anything but pay the bills.  Right now I’m doing fairly well and enjoying life but next year I could be scraping by.  You never know what the next field season will bring.  That is passion.  Doing a job, not because it pays well, or even just pays the bills, but because you can’t imagine yourself doing anything else.

When I was in the Navy I was an aviation electronics technician for an EA-6B squadron.    I enjoyed the work and went home satisfied that I’d done a good job for my squadron and my country.  One time I uncovered a major problem during a routine inspection.  If it had remained unfound the problem could have resulted in the loss of four lives on the next flight.  That is the definition of job satisfaction and I spent time in other pursuits searching for it in the private sector.

One of my division Chiefs told me something that has guided my career decision making ever since. He told me to look around at the people that have been doing what I am doing for their entire lives.  Are they where I want to be?  Is my career progression going to take me to where I want to be?

That question that I ask myself constantly is the reason I decided to leave the electronics world as a civilian and the reason I decided to leave the commercial aviation program I was in at the University of North Dakota.  I looked at the people that were 20 to 30 years down the road from me and realized that I didn’t want to be there.  

The most important thing is that for two of my past careers there were only a couple of places that I could possibly end up at the end of a career.  There were not many paths to be chosen.

I think that is what I love most about archaeology.  When I look at where I could be in 20 to 30 years and beyond it’s difficult to imagine something in particular.  I could be the PI at a CRM company, running my own company, writing, consulting, hosting a show on Discovery (yeah right!), or just retired and volunteering on digs.  The possibilities are endless.

If I won the lottery tomorrow (I hear odds of winning greatly increase if you actually play.  I’ll have to look into that.) I would likely quit my job.  I wouldn’t get out of archaeology, however.  I would focus on application development and on bringing more technology and efficiency to CRM.  I would likely open my own technology based CRM company and hire the best in the business to help make CRM more efficient and scientific.

Our clients hate us.  We do nothing but cost them money and cause delays.  I can understand that.  If we can make our work more efficient and therefore more cost effective then maybe there would be fewer headaches on all sides.  That’s what I would do.  

I’d also like to write more.  There are books for shovelbums that need to be written.  Guidebooks and general knowledge books.  Field techs are often thrown into the field of CRM with no guidance.

Of course I’d have to open a coffee shop from which I could work.  That goes without saying.  My fiance would have a yarn store in there somewhere.  I’m getting off topic.  Anyway, I’d still be involved in archaeology.  It would just be on my terms rather than on someone else’s.

Do you have passion?  What would you do if you won 100 million dollars tomorrow?


Written during a caffeine induced introspection…(on 6.5.11)