perspective

#276 Perspective

From our AirBnB in Dusseldorf, Germany.

From our AirBnB in Dusseldorf, Germany.

I'm sitting on an Air Berlin flight to Germany right now. We have a 23-hour-layover in Dusseldorf where we've got a nice little AirBnB apartment downtown. The following day we fly to Naples, Italy where we'll be for the rest of the month. 

Recently, someone online commented that I've got a pretty exciting life. The tone is what really stuck out in my head and is what's keeping me awake right now.

Let me back up a bit to when I was a field tech in my first year of work.

About eight months after I started in CRM I was working for a company out of Tampa, Florida on a project that took us in different areas north and south of Lake Okeechobee. It was miserable work with crappy pay, practically no per diem, and double occupancy hotel rooms. It's the kind of thing I rail against on the podcast now and a situation that I'd never put my employees in. Aside from the bugs, snakes, alligators, wild boars, and shitty weather, we didn't really find anything in our 50x50cm shovel tests. At least we were digging in sand.

I was so poor on that project that I didn't want to pay for a hotel room on the weekends. We worked Monday through Friday. On a couple of the weekends a coworker let me stay at her house. I was very grateful to have a comfortable place to stay but I always felt weird about it. I just don't like imposing on people. So, for a few of the weekends I camped. In Florida. In July and August. 

On one particular weekend I remember having a campsite at a state park near Jupiter, FL. I'd purchased a small water heater and a small fan; my tent spot had power. The water heater was for my coffee in the morning and the fan was to keep me from dying. It was so hot and sticky from the humidity that the temperature overnight never really got very low and I didn't sleep much. I relied on the weekly hotel rooms to catch up on my sleep. I was miserable, had no friends, and didn't even have a computer.

In my off time I tried to ride my road bike and read a lot. I wasn't reading blogs or listening to podcasts - mostly because they didn't really exist yet. I just worked, went home, had a meal, watched TV, whatever, and did it all over again.

There were a few times while I was driving that I seriously thought about swerving into the relentless traffic. End it all right there. I was 31 years old, divorced, in serious debt, and didn't have a clear picture as to how the rest of my pathetic life was going to go.

This isn't some feel-good story of how I made it. Even though I own a couple companies and play a significant role in a few others, I still don't think I've "made it". I talk to people sometimes, though, that seem to think I've got it all figured out. Well, I don't. In fact, I really can't tell you how I got here. Honestly, I just kept going and kept looking up. I have a personality that makes me want to lead, to be in charge, and to make the decisions. There isn't a real reason for it - it's just how I'm wired. So, I constantly put myself in positions where I could gain some leadership experience or experience that would help me out later on. I realized at some point that most people in the lower levels of CRM don't really know more than they have to. It's just a fact. By learning a little bit about using a Trimble or a total station I made myself more marketable. By volunteering for things and always stepping forward when asked I made myself an asset. Before I knew it I was getting crew chief positions more than field tech ones.

I saw getting a master's degree as the next logical step in the upward process. So, I started looking, but not too seriously, for graduate schools. Just in case, I took the GREs. One year, a former professor of mine told me about a new one-year MS at the University of Georgia. I applied and got in. I wasn't concerned with cost. That would sort itself out. The degree took me 12 months and cost me $33,000. Still paying it off, of course. That's on top of my remaining $50,000 from my undergrad (I was an aviation major for a while - it's expensive).

At some point after graduating I got a project manager spot. It didn't last long because I was laid off. I took that as a sign to start my own thing and the rest is history.

So, have I made it because I get to go to Italy and work on software that will help archaeologists across the planet do their jobs better? No - I worked hard for this and at some point you realize that the work is never done. I'll have made it when I'm suddenly dead and my legacy lives on. I won't care, though, because I'll have been plasticized into a position where Iā€™m digging a unit while recording a podcast.

I don't know what the point of this post is. I think I just get irritated when people look at my situation and make assumptions as to how I got there and where I'm going. Being a CRM Archaeologist is HARD work and you have to make yourself a career that you're happy with. No one is going to do it for you and because of the nature of our work you could easily end up a field tech for the rest of your life with no change in lifestyle or situation. Maybe you're cool with that, I don't know. If you're constantly complaining about money, benefits, and lack of work, though, you have no one to blame but yourself. Get off your ass and make something happen, no matter how ridiculous. That's it - they're serving breakfast soon and I haven't slept yet.

Thanks for reading and I'll see you in the field.

#273 Interpreting the Past - Manhattanhenge

Twice a year the axial tilt of the Earth and the Earth's position around the sun create a situation where the buildings of New York City line up exactly with the rising and setting sun. New York City is probably the most famous city on the planet which is why this actually makes the news every year. I'm willing to bet most cities on a roughly east-west alignment will experience their own solar henge phenomenon. But, they're not NYC.

Interpreting History

How will future researchers, possibly alien, interpret this astronomical alignment? Across the plant archaeologists ascribe spiritual and ritualistic explanation to structural features that appear to be aligned to astronomical phenomenon. From sunrise and sunset at the solstice to petroglyphs and pictographs that depict astronomical events, there are cultures all over the planet that notice and honor these events. What does it mean? Why do they do it?

Most of the time, archaeologists figure that ancient cultures we're honoring the longest and shortest days of the year in order to keep a calendar, mark the passage of time, and/or know when to harvest. How can we say what value they actually gave to these alignments.

But, here's a question - how do we know this isn't just a coincidence in some cases? How many massive archaeological monuments are NOT aligned to astronomical events? How many petroglyphs and pictographs have nothing to do with astronomy? The answer is likely in the millions.

This brings up Manhattanhenge again.  The famous astrophysicist tells us that Manhattanhenge takes place twice a year - once on Memorial Day and once near the Baseball Allstar game. He concludes that future researchers would find this layout and determine that the ancient people that called themselves "Americans" worshipped War and Baseball. Is that accurate? Perhaps. However, New York City has been around since long before Memorial Day and Baseball. Regardless, we know the orientation of the city is based on the orientation of the island of Manhattan, not the sun rising and setting in a certain location on a certain day. If we go far enough into the future, though, the outlines of Manhattan Island might be indistinguishable from the surrounding landscape. Perhaps an earthquake will reshape the land. Perhaps the ocean will recede and land will come back with formation-changing vegetation and erosion. Who knows?

Think before you write

I guess what I'm getting at is that we have to be cautious regarding our interpretations of sites. I've seen so many tin can scatters that I can't keep them straight anymore. We look at these artifacts and say with confidence that it was a short lunch by a couple of ranchers - or it was an oil change on the side of a long-forgotten two-track road - or it was simply a dump that was collected from somewhere else and deposited in the desert without ceremony or reason.

There are any number of reasons why a collection of artifacts are present in a given situation. I'm not saying don't take a guess. I'm just saying to call it an interpretation based on evidence but leave the door open for other interpretations. Try not to bias your site records and reports with your ideas. Don't plant a seed in a future researcher's head that may lead down an incorrect path. Just present your evidence, present your ideas, and leave it at that.

Thanks for reading and I'll see you in the field!!