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Home News Latest Women's History Month: Archaeology trail blazing

Women's History Month: Archaeology trail blazing

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scavonearchdig
Author Kathleen Scavone on an archaeological dig. Photo courtesy of Kathleen Scavone.

NORTHERN CALIFORNIA – In 1980 a nonprofit organization called the National Women's History Project, or NWHP, was created in honor of women, their achievements and to help preserve women in history.

This organization was formed in Santa Rosa by Molly Murphy MacGregor, Mary Ruthsdotter, Maria Cuevas, Paula Hammett and Bette Morgan.

It was due to the NWHP's lobbying Congress that March was designated as a declared month called, Women's History Month.

Each year there is a specific theme which the National Women's History Project highlights to honor women during Women's History month. This year, in 2017 the theme is “Honoring Trailblazing Women in Labor and Business.”

I interviewed archaeologist, Seetha Reddy, PhD, RPA of Reddy Anthropology Consulting Inc., Disadvantaged Business Enterprise, Women Minority Business Enterprise and Women Owned Small Business of Davis in honor of Women's History Month.

I have always had an interest in history and archaeology. My brother, David Livingstone, was an archaeologist, and I have had the good fortune to work with some other great archaeologists, such as State Parks archaeologist Breck Parkman with the "Fort Ross Global Village" project when I was an educator; Sonoma State University archaeologist Mike Newland, who taught my fourth graders about the skills and jobs of an archaeologist; Dr. John Parker, who helped me with my Anderson Marsh book and on whose team I have worked on digs; and with newly retired State Park archaeologist Leslie Steidl on "A Walk Through Time," an award-winning documentary about Anderson Marsh .

Question: Please tell me a bit about yourself and your affiliation with the Society For California Archaeology, or SCA.

Answer: I am originally from India and have been in the US for more than 30 years. I did my doctoral research on early agriculturalists and pastoral communities in Northwest India and South India and got my PhD from the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Subsequently, I moved to California and started working on California archaeology in 1993. I have worked at several environmental cultural resource management firms as a principal investigator and project manager. In 2014, I started my CRM firm which is a Disadvantaged and Women Owned Business offering services in archaeology and ethnography.

I have been a member of SCA for many years and regularly present talks and organize symposia at the annual meetings. In 2012, I started a committee “Women in California Archaeology,” or WCA, at the association. The mission of the WCA Committee is to provide a venue for discussion related to women archaeologists in California. It works to provide support and mentorship to women practicing archaeology in the state through individual and/or group interactions.

Question: When did your interest in archaeology begin?

Answer: My earliest childhood memories include interacting with paleontologists and cultural anthropologists who frequented the rural area in India where my family lived.

The paleontologists came over several years to excavate dinosaur remains and grew to be good family friends. The cultural anthropologists came to study the dwindling tribal groups who still lived traditional lives deep in the teak forests of central India.

The scholars were very generous with their time to us children who were fascinated with the dinosaur remains and the tribal groups; but also the unusual lifestyles of living in tent camps, traveling cross-country and all the adventure that comes to it.

I strongly believe that these early childhood experiences lit a fire in me to study the past and culture. I was a biological science student in India and switched to Anthropology when I came to the US for education; and my science background has been a great asset to me as an anthropologist.

Question: What are you working on now?

Answer: I am working on several projects. A couple of examples include ethnography of Native Americans in Yuba County, and a project looking at prehistoric period plant use by Native American along the Central Coast in Monterey, Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties.

Question: In the past, like many occupations, the field of archaeology was dominated by male archaeologists. Do you have any female archaeologist role models who influence(d) your career?

Answer: I have turned to several women anthropologists for advice and mentorship. Among them include the late Dr. Carol Kramer (University of Arizona) and Dr. Christine Hastorf (a current professor at UC Berkeley).

In terms of role models, there are several women who I hold in great regard and respect – of particular mention are Dr. Diane Gifford Gonzales (UC Santa Cruz), and Dr. Kathleen Morrison (University of Pennsylvania).  These women have been active in fieldwork and laboratory research, and have demonstrated how women make valuable contributions to the field while balancing other aspects of life.

Question: You are, no doubt, familiar with the fascinating archaeology of Lake County, such as Borax Lake, Anderson Marsh and the rich cultural history of the past here, with the Pomo, Miwok, Yuki, Patwin and Wappo Indians who lived here. Some of the peoples still do, of course, such as Pomo Indian Moke Simon and family. Moke is Lake County's first Native American county supervisor. Have you ever worked on any digs here in Lake County?

I have not worked on any projects in Lake County, but have worked in nearby Mendocino County, and am familiar with the rich and varied cultural history of the area. Both the rich cultural traditions of the indigenous Californians of Lake County and the remarkable archaeological record that their ancestors left behind are to be celebrated and preserved.

Question: Everyone knows that archaeology is interesting, from watching exciting Hollywood movies, or visiting famous archaeology sites around the world, but not many realize the varied tasks you archaeologists need to be proficient at. Can you please talk about what the real job of archaeology entails?

Answer: Archaeology is highly romanticized in the media and most students in their first archaeology class are perhaps disillusioned by the lackluster of the daily practice of the discipline in general. Much of archaeology entails tedious work that involves physical labor, and mundane tasks such as sorting through gravel looking for artifacts, and a lot of reading and writing.

Of course, along with theses detailed efforts that form the basis of most scientific study, are the bursts of discoveries and intellectual breakthroughs (either personally or within the wider discipline itself).

These discoveries may seem routine to most people, but to the archaeologist invested in the study a small shell bead, carbonized seeds, a bone tool, or a single projectile point, will bring immense joy as it opens a small window into the past.

A very big part of the job is patience and experience, but with it comes the very real, firsthand knowledge of how people lived in the past, and such knowledge ultimately enriches us all. And sometimes, one finds oneself on the cutting edge of a new discovery that may change, if only in a modest way, how we view and understand what happened in the past.

Question: What are some of the tools you use in your job?

Answer: Tools used by archaeologists range widely depending on the task at hand. The essential minimum tools for archaeological surveys include maps, compasses, GPS units, recording forms, and cameras.

For excavation projects, there are a wide range of tools from maps, compasses, GPS units, shovels, trowels, screens, line levels, to recording forms, artifact bags, and soil sample bags.

In the lab, a whole different set of tools are needed including but not limited to weighing scales, microscopes, sieves, computers, printers, archival bags and so on.

We also use all sorts of state-of-the-art scientific equipment to carry out detailed analysis on material recovered from excavations; and a great deal of time is spent using computers to enter data, analyze it, and write reports.

As such, tools of the trade are greatly dependent on the type of archaeological work that is being conducted. 

Question: Would you recommend archaeology as a career for young women today? If so, what should they be doing, now, to prepare for a future in archaeology, whether they are fourth graders or college students?

Answer: I would definitely recommend archaeology as a career for young women. Regardless of whether one is a fourth grader or college student, if they are interested in the discipline, they should prepare by working on their writing skills, and importantly to cultivate and nurture curiosity about life, history, science, math, etc.

One of the wonderful aspects of archaeology is that it is multidisciplinary and encourages you to learn and grow through many outlets. It combines anthropology (the study of culture), with geology, sociology, art, linguistics, biology, chemistry, statistics, etc. We intersect with so many facets of knowledge, from history to biology and botany to chemistry, and social aspects of human behavior.

Even at a young age, it is important that girls start assessing what makes them happy. Archaeology is a discipline that accommodates a lot of different wishes – being outside, exploring the world, conducting experiments, learning about new cultures, working on soils, etc.

On a more practical level, anyone in college who is considering archaeology should definitely attend a field school and/or volunteer in an archaeological project. This will give the individual a more realistic idea of what archaeology is in practice while connected with people who are involved with the field.

Open homes at universities and colleges are one way of finding out and connecting with archaeologists. Similarly, most museums provide opportunities to budding students to volunteer along with public events and lectures.

United States Forest Service offers a program called Passport In Time which provides opportunities as a volunteer on public lands and help in conserve cultural sites. I highly recommend that students first volunteer at a museum, agency or university; and/or take field school before deciding on becoming an archaeologist.

Question: What do you most enjoy about archaeology?

Answer: For me, the most wonderful aspect of archaeology is that it is a multidisciplinary discipline. For example, I combine my background in biology with history to study how ancient populations used plants for food, how the plants were collected/grown, how they were processed and prepared, and how they were consumed.

I regularly use geology, botany, chemistry and math in my archaeological research, along with history and sociology to study and understand the human condition in the past.

Additionally, because it is multidisciplinary, we work with people from different scholastic backgrounds (geologists/soil scientists, zoologists, programmers, database specialists, etc.) which enrich us and our projects.

Furthermore, because we study human cultural behavior, we are constantly learning and therefore are constantly growing our knowledge of the world and life.

Another aspect of archaeology that keeps me continually excited is that it is highly varied in that I am doing varied tasks from fieldwork, lab work, reading, and writing.

If there comes a day when I cannot do fieldwork for whatever reason, I can focus on labwork and writing. As such, there is opportunity to grow into different aspects of the discipline depending on where one is in their career and life. Of course, it is important to be a versatile scholar, proficient in all aspects (fieldwork, labwork and writing) to enjoy this unique opportunity that archaeology offers.

Question: What does archaeology offer for the future?

Answer: Unlike, cancer research and nuclear physics, archaeology is not a field that will provide potential cures for fatal diseases or find new power source(s).

It is a field that studies human past and unfolds and reveals lost lifeways. Its importance lies in the very fact that our past has and will continue to shape our present and future: political, social, cultural, and religious. Our past is the foundation of our present and future.
 
Archaeology is also one avenue that helps us learn from past mistakes and successes. For example, it questions and provides answers to why some past civilizations failed after enjoying a long period of success. Whether it is external or internal factors and such knowledge provides great power in how we can organize ourselves and avoid similar pitfalls in our present and future.

On a final note, study of the human condition over time, understanding how we changed or did not, how we faced challenges, succeeded, and failed, are more important in today’s world where fear of the unknown and the unfamiliar is increasing. It is important for us to teach and learn to appreciate diversity and how it enriches us rather than threaten us.

Thank you very much, Seetha, for a fascinating look at the science of archaeology and the diverse work that it entails.

For more information on Women's History Month, see the Library of Congress Web site at http://womenshistorymonth.gov/ .

Kathleen Scavone, M.A., is a retired educator, potter, writer and author of “Anderson Marsh State Historic Park: A Walking History, Prehistory, Flora, and Fauna Tour of a California State Park” and “Native Americans of Lake County.” She also writes for NASA and JPL as one of their “Solar System Ambassadors.” She was selected “Lake County Teacher of the Year, 1998-99” by the Lake County Office of Education, and chosen as one of 10 state finalists the same year by the California Department of Education.

scavonearchscreen
An archaeological screen. Photo courtesy of Kathleen Scavone.

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