Summer in the Lower Pecos: A Tale of Three Interns
By Megan Blackburn, Kasia Cross, and Dee Morris
Welcome back to the Shumla blog! We’re the 2019 Shumla Summer Interns: Megan Blackburn, Deianira Morris, and Kasia Cross. We have organized our learning experience as interns at Shumla Archaeological Research and Education Center into four intertwined categories essential to archaeology: field school, fieldwork, lab work, and stewardship. Although we’ve worked hard in each phase of our internship, we’ve been having a lot of fun as well. But we don’t want to keep all of this excitement to ourselves, so instead we’re going to share it with all of y’all!
This past summer, Shumla helped manage the 2019 Texas State University Archaeological Field School. Along with documenting new rock art sites and providing instruction to students in the lab and in the field, Shumla housed 14 students at their campus for the duration of the field school. This was an extraordinary feat of effort and dedication for the Shumla crew, and we as interns got to be a part of this amazing experience in our own unique ways! While Dee and Megan participated in the field school as staff assistants, Kasia participated as both an intern and a student. Take a look at the details of our individual perspectives of field school.
Field School as a Student – Kasia’s perspective
As a student participating in the field school, I had the incredible opportunity to live and learn at the Shumla campus with the teachers and other students. During this time, I was immersed in a culture of collective excitement at the prospect of uncovering and studying the material record of humanity. In addition, waking every morning to witness the birth of a glowing sun upon a sotol-speckled horizon was profoundly beautiful and humbling. To me, learning to document the breathtaking visual codices that the archaic hunter-gatherers left behind to record their mortal experience and their cosmology–on the very landscape where they once lived, loved, worshipped, and died–was and is a singular privilege.
Over the course of field school, I learned how to use a Total Data Station, survey the landscape, excavate a burned rock midden, conduct an iconographic inventory of pictographs, complete TexSite and Shumla Rock Art Site Forms, and use Gigapans and Structure from Motion to create high resolution photographs and 3D models of rock art panels.
During my last week of field school, I got some great experience as a research archaeologist when I gave a presentation examining theories and interpretations of Basketmaker rock art. This project was both a challenging and immensely enjoyable experience that reminded me of an important maxim: a diversity of knowledge and a plurality of opinions comprise the foundation of any flourishing discipline. As someone who is double-majoring in Environmental Studies and Anthropology, it is my hope that I could one day use my background in biology and ecology to facilitate interdisciplinary research within the field of rock art research.
Field School as an Intern – Megan and Dee’s perspective
Although both Megan and Dee had participated in other field schools, this field school was much different than what we had experienced previously. The Texas State University field school included both dirt archaeology and rock art research and we remained with the rock art team for the entire time. This allowed us to fully submerge ourselves with the Shumla team and their methods of rock art documentation. Our introduction to being Shumla interns was as hands-on as it gets! Having never worked in the Lower Pecos before, documenting rock art sites was as much a learning experience for us as it was for the students. While in the field, it was invigorating to be in an environment where everyone was so eager to immerse themselves in the information around them and this got us excited too!
At the end of the field school, it was sad to see everyone go; but our job was far from done. For the next six weeks, we worked directly with the Shumla staff, both in the field and in the lab, to help them document more rock art sites.
2019 Field School at the Shumla Harrington Campus
At Shumla, a standard day begins early with a hike to a rock art site that is either unrecorded, or one that requires further documentation. Once we arrive, we assess the rock art at the site, while other crew members collect data for the Texas Historical Commission’s official archaeological site form (TexSite Form). Other members begin the task of filling out the specialized Shumla Rock Art Site Form while others work on GigaPans and/or Structure from Motion photography of the rock art panel. More photos are taken of the crew, the site, and any cultural features that we find there, which can range from artifacts like chert flakes to the rock art panels and bedrock features such as mortar holes.
But fieldwork as a Shumla intern isn’t just about the work, it also encompasses a wide range of emotive experiences such as the pleasure we derive from a spectacular canyon vista, the awe we feel when beholding millennia-old art, the intent focus required for Structure for Motion (SfM) 3D modeling, and even the pain felt at the occasional jab of a prickly pear spine.
Fieldwork during our internship has also taught us a variety of life lessons. For example, data collection in the field has taught us the necessity of dynamic teamwork and a flexible research methodology–a site crew must be able to adapt their individual and collective goals and roles according to the parameters of the site and the rock art. At one site that we recently visited, we quickly learned that things don’t always go according to plan when we encountered a nest of ground wasps while attempting to document a previously unknown site! After Kasia was stung three times, it was decided that the site would have to be documented in the winter.
Although we only had a passing glance at the site’s rock art, we still had enough information to be able to start documenting the site using TexSite and Rock Art Site Forms. As we discovered, work in the field can present formidable obstacles and it is important to capitalize on unplanned challenges. Luckily, most of our visits to rock art sites do not involve wasp attacks!
Of course, the amount of time we spend in the field is always balanced by an equal amount of time, or more, spent in the lab processing the data we collect. We always get a lot of enjoyment out of the time we get to spend in the field, but lab time means that we’re working closer to reaching our goals–and the air conditioning!
As archaeology students, the majority of our experiences in the lab were limited to specific classes we took to earn a grade or projects that we participated in. Within the last 2 months, we have gotten more lab experience as Shumla interns than we received throughout most of our college careers. From filling out archaeological reports that we submit to Texas Archaeological Research Laboratory, to completing comprehensive descriptions of rock art sites for landowners the public. Shumla has helped us learn a wide range of skills essential to any archaeologist.
For us, though, one of the best parts about lab work is being able to review all of the information about a site that we’ve documented in the field. It is not uncommon for us to find interesting details about a site in the lab, such as its layout on the landscape, that we never noticed while we were in the field. More than once, we’ve found pictographs in the lab using DStretch image enhancement of the GigaPans that we completely missed in the field, even after spending hours documenting a site!
When we’re working in the lab, we often like to keep things upbeat by listening to music as we process data or write up site reports. Funnily enough, it’s not uncommon for us to listen to heavy metal! Although many people may not think that heavy metal is the best work music, it’s actually great to listen to while processing data. Not only have we had interesting new experiences as Shumla interns, we have expanded the range of music that we listen to as well.
Throughout our time as interns, Shumla has taught us how to engage with a variety of audiences that include professional archaeologists, landowners, and the public who are just as passionate about rock art as we. Although we have learned as students how important it is for archaeologists to promote stewardship of archaeological sites, our time with Shumla has emphasized that lesson and has taught us the main way archaeologists can encourage stewardship is by showing our appreciation for everyone who helps us study and maintain these sites. To a large extent, Shumla’s ability to document important rock art sites in the Lower Pecos is due to the landowners on whose land these sites are located. Not only has the stewardship of the landowners protected the existence of these sites, it is because of the landowners that Shumla staff are able to access these sites and document them. In turn, Shumla is happy to do what we can for the landowners and for everyone that supports us. As Jerod Roberts put it, “Archaeology isn’t just archaeology. It’s also feeding landowner’s cats and hanging photos on people’s walls,” which is to say that we do what we can to show people that we how much we appreciate their support.
During our time as interns, we have helped Shumla show its appreciation, and our own, to the landowners and all those who support Shumla’s research by writing thank you cards and completing site summaries that will get distributed to landowners. There are few things more satisfying than completing site forms and site summaries and knowing that this wonderful, interesting information is now available to other people who are just as interested in rock art as we are!
Among everything else, one of the most crucial lessons Shumla has taught us is the importance of the four pillars of preservation: research, documentation, stewardship, and education. In our opinion, these pillars that Shumla embodies can, and arguably should, constitute the core of how archaeology is conducted in other regions of the United States. No matter where we go from here, we will be much better archaeologists than we ever dreamed of becoming!
Interns, signing out!