International Archaeology Day: A Day in the Life

Today we’re celebrating International Archaeology Day! Every October the Archaeological Institute of America and archaeological organizations across the United States, Canada, and abroad present archaeological programs and activities for people of all ages and interests. Because we are celebrating archaeologists from all backgrounds, we asked our archaeologists to share insight into their careers, thoughts, and journeys while studying and performing archaeology. This is what they told us…

Celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the National Historic Preservation Act through video!

By Mark Bruhy and Katie Egan-Bruhy, Commonwealth Heritage Group Inc., Milwaukee, WI

Commonwealth’s Wisconsin staff worked in coordination with the Menominee Tribe of Wisconsin and the Wisconsin Archeological Survey to provide funding and production support for the creation of the Wisconsin submission to the Making Archaeology Public Project (MAPP). MAPP is a consortium of organizations that include the Society for American Archaeology, the Society for Historical Archaeology, the American Cultural Resources Association, and the Register of Professional Archaeologists. In celebration of the 50th anniversary of the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA), these organizations joined in asking each state to create a short video that highlights important archaeological research made possible by the NHPA. Wisconsin’s film, titled “Wisconsin’s First People,” is set on the Menominee Reservation and features interviews with David Grignon (Menominee Tribal Historic Preservation Officer) and David Overstreet (archaeological consultant to the Menominee Tribe). Grignon and Overstreet address Menominee oral history as it relates to ongoing archaeological research being conducted by the Tribe and provide compelling archaeological documentation of the Menominee’s long-standing residency of northern Wisconsin and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

The production of “Wisconsin’s First People” was funded in part by a grant from the Wisconsin Humanities Council, with funds from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the State of Wisconsin. Additional funding came from the Wisconsin Archeological Survey, along with much support from the Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin, the Wisconsin Archeological Society, and the Milwaukee Public Museum. The film was web-streamed on various sites, including the Archaeology Channel and the National Park Service’s “Preservation50” site. The video was distributed to universities, museums, libraries, and public television.

Watch this video and more at


Life in the Wilderness as an Archaeologist, A Personal Account of Life on the Job

By John Rasmussen, Commonwealth Heritage Group Inc., Ogden, Utah

The Frank Church Wilderness is an unforgiving place where barren, rocky peaks are cut sharply down into raging rivers. These waterways lend the region the innocent, perhaps even romantic moniker of “The River of No Return.” While this name might imply fun for the whole family, it also hints at just how foreboding the area is. It is the largest contiguous wilderness in the lower 48, but that doesn’t really begin to cover the untouched vastness of the area. This is a place truly without roads or access. Everything from nails to flour to farm equipment is flown in weekly to the small ranches, which nestle in the river bends.

The project scope was simple enough: visit six diversion points on tributary creeks that feed into the Middle Fork of the Salmon River and record any historic features or artifacts. The diversions could be anything from a simple hand-dug ditch, to a full dam with headgates. Without any roads, even the most direct routes to some of these locations required over a 20-mile hike in each direction. Coming to terms with the fact that it would take weeks to reach each diversion on foot, and that rafting presented too many obstacles, we settled on chartering a flight into the remote airstrips that dot the river.

In conjunction with a biologist working on the same project, we met up with the small prop plane pilot at 5 am on a lonely airstrip outside of Salmon, Idaho. Time was against us from the beginning because the warmer the day got, the harder it was for our little puddle-jumper to get a lift and take off out of the small airstrips. Our first landing strip took us into a canyon of talus slopes and overgrown brush. As it turned out, the brush also represented a thriving empire of ticks; snooty and clearly old money.  Right off the bat, an important learning opportunity presented itself; by tucking in your shirt, ticks have a harder time getting to you. As I tucked in my unfortunately sleeveless shirt, I accepted that the ticks may get a ride; but only if they paid for tickets to the gun show.

Each of the diversions turned out to be a fight against the terrain and wildlife. Forty-foot topographic lines on the maps blurred just how steep and unforgiving the region could be, and any movement in a consistent direction was a losing fight. As our plane hopped us between diversions, we recorded old penstock lines and headgates; features being gradually swallowed by vegetation and reclaimed by the wilderness. At one diversion on the mouth of Cougar Creek, we found an old tent platform and the remains of a small cowboy camp, complete with a scatter of cans and a fire ring. Was it a herding camp, a hermit’s abode or possibly a gold miner’s retreat?

The insane movements required of the plane to get into these narrow landings was only tempered by the calmness with which our pilot went about eating his sandwich. A lesser aviator might have forgone such an endeavor, choosing instead to keep both hands firmly on the plane’s controls and perhaps deal with the sweet ambrosia at a later, less airborne time. Not our wayward hero; such was his mastery of the skies, that simple feats of flight could no longer amuse him. He was lost to us now; there were no worlds left for him to conquer, and only the thrills and depths of depravity that come from eating while operating motorized vehicles could sate his endless hunger. As the plane lurched and tilted to almost 90°, the hand holding the sandwich stayed level and firm as Terra itself, ensuring that none of the plane’s actual precious cargo was scathed. It was only on the final takeoff, with the weather warm, the air thin, and the runway short and unkept, that the titan finally moved his hands from the ham sandwich and 2 o’clock positions to grasp the controls and keep us from plummeting into the river.

The final diversion point led us up a steep canyon, with our diversion unfortunately on the other side. A leap too far, and a river too rapid; it was an impossible 30-foot jump. With no other options, I “saddled up” by stripping down; leaving all the non-essentials on the bank. I tied my boots around my neck, held my pack aloft, and began the slow and rocky cross from one jagged (yet somehow slick) boulder to the next. It was about halfway across the river when my old nemesis, gravity, decided to finally make its play. Thrashing around for balance, I watched as my boots came untied and launched themselves into the river. I snatched up one, but the other was already off on its faithful voyage downstream. I watched with sad desperation as the lone boot drifted down the river; like the navigators of old, my trusty boot was now off to have its own adventures in the great unknown. I saluted my wayward comrade as it twisted the final bend before drifting out of sight; it may be gone, but its story would live on forever.

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