Friday, June 11, 2010

How To Join An Archeological Dig In Pennsylvania

The first time I saw an archeological team in action was in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, down in the old industrial quarter by the Monocacy Creek. Young people, probably students from nearby Moravian College, slaved away with their trowels and other tools under professional direction. They didn't seem to mind the work or the dirt.
I wished I could join them. The nobility of it, helping to make clear the record of the past! And using clues only a detective would understand! What an intellectual challenge! What a moral high!
The second time I encountered the concept of archeology it was in a far different context. (I exclude my trips to the Middle East, where of course I visited sites that had been settings for great digs--Petra, Jerusalem, Masada, Jericho...But I myself had nothing to do with these--like thousands of other tourists, I was just passing through.)
But if I had understood more in my second domestic contact with archeology I might have at least delayed Walmart's destruction of our house. I'd have enjoyed doing that.
There was a patch of wetlands by the highway, no more than about 100 yards from the house. I had slogged through it many times; but I did not realize that it contained a kitchen midden created by American Indians who had once lived in the area.
At least, in retrospect, I suppose that's what it was. It was never officially interpreted. And I, of course, never dug around in it. (A rule I set for myself was, "Never put your hand where there might be a snake."
And THAT, at least, was a good thing. I mean both staying away from snakes and not rearranging the potsherds. Too many people--I believe archeologists refer to them as "pot hunters"--look for sites they can mine for artifacts to sell, or for their own collections. These things are not their property--indeed, in some cases they may be the bones of long-dead people-- and their hunting efforts make it difficult if not impossible to understand what happened on the site. They are robbing the public of knowledge.
I missed a direct connection with archeology, but I still wish I had had one. And if you wish that for yourself, then I urge you to avoid the pot hunter approach at all costs. Instead, get in touch with professionals.
Where to go? With the economy in chaos it's hard to know. The state is able to finance very little these days; but it's still probably the best place to begin looking. Try the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (PHMC. org). Within this organization, look for the Bureau For Historic Protection, which is the state's historic preservation office.
If you find anything else, please let me know. There is a lot of material online about this, as about other topics. I want to make sure you get only the best and most relevant.
By the way, I hope you will follow this and my other blog, Letters from Lyonesse. That one is; and this one is Just go to the red button marked "follow," partway down the right side. Click on it, and do what needs to be done. That should also make you eligible to make comments.

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