Taking a Chance in Archaeological Fieldwork

Some of the specimens Hames worked with in the field.

Volunteer Internships to Independent Study:
Taking a Chance in Archaeological Fieldwork

By Maggie Hames

In June of this past year, I was given a great opportunity. I had just completed my first semester at Cabrillo College and was about to begin summer courses when I received an email from my Introduction to Archaeology professor, Dusty Mckenzie. Up until that winter, it had never crossed my mind that I might be interested in archaeology, let alone have aspirations of joining the field. After receiving my associates degree in Liberal Arts at my local community college in New Hampshire, and after a cross-country move, I intended on pursuing a degree in cultural anthropology. This was a fairly new development, as I had only become aware of anthropology several months earlier. It was while I was meeting my lower-level UCSC anthropology requirements at Cabrillo that I was first introduced to archaeology- and was instantly hooked. I felt as though I had discovered a discipline that combined all of the things I am most passionate and interested in.

My first opportunity to do some fieldwork arose in spring quarter 2016. Albion Environmental was looking for volunteers to sift and sort at Castro Adobe in Watsonville. I jumped at the chance to be part of a local archaeological data recovery program. This provided me with an excellent way to begin learning about local history as well. Living in the Northeast my entire life, I had never heard of the Spanish Missions until I had been in California for several months.

Shortly after classes ended in spring, I received an email looking for summer interns to once again join Albion Environmental, only this time it would be in a Mission context. I immediately leapt at the chance. From this opportunity, I met graduate student Christina 

BonesSpellman whom I began to work with. Spellman had been working alongside Albion Environmental at Mission Santa Clara and needed extra hands sorting materials as she worked on her thesis. Spellman’s thesis focuses on the use of pottery as a way of gleaning information about social spaces in mission settings and the impact they had on spatial identity. Because this was already an area of interest to her, she was able to provide me with numerous different research papers, concerning topics related to the themes we were encountering.

Her research and the internship were extremely timely as I was able to both learn more about Spanish colonization and it’s impact on native populations while simultaneously gaining experience sorting. Initially, I was highly doubtful that I’d ever be able to distinguish bone, adobe, teja from rocks or each other in any meaningful way but with time and patience, I began to find my footing. It was during this sorting time that I was able to finally plunge into California’s fascinating past.

Among the authors and local experts I began to see readily was Professor Tsim Schneider, a member of the faculty at UCSC, where I would shortly be attending. As the summer drew to a close, thoughts started shifting toward fall and the future of my internship. After contacting Professor Schneider, I decided that the best fit would to continue to build on what I had learned over the summer, by turning my internship into an independent study, which is where I am today.

In this new stage, I am fully able to dive into all different facets of California’s colonial era, and really get a sense of the context and importance of the materials I was sorting this summer. I continue to go back to Albion Environmental but I also meet with Professor Schneider who gives me insight to all different kinds of fascinating topics from the Russians in Fort Ross to obsidian dating and spatial identities. I strongly feel that having a faculty member I can discuss my questions, thoughts, and interests with is stabilizing and clarifying as well, especially when you are relatively new to the area of study, the school and the entire state.

Reflecting on my internship experience and my current independent study, is proving to be every bit as useful, formative, and educational as I could have hoped given that I began with a small amount of archaeological knowledge. It became the perfect bridge, from community college and my introductory anthropology classes, to upper level course work and beyond. Because of all of the amazing help and support I was given at every stage of the process, I feel infinitely more confident in my choice to pursue a career in the field. Additionally, I now know that I have countless people I can come to for guidance and insight, which the most valuable thing I take away from this experience. I strongly encourage anyone considering a opportunity like this to take it in a heartbeat because chances are you will walk away with far more than you would have expected and it will still be paying off for years to come.

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