Fighting the Good Fight
B.A. in Biology, 2013
Summer Intern at Yellowstone National Park
Read about our summer research projects on the OutWest student blog. Throughout the summer, the Center's interns and Research Assistants will be sending in virtual postcards, snapshots and reports on their summer work.
I started the summer with next to no knowledge about North American lithic technology, plains archaeology, Yellowstone National Park, or cultural resources management. Now, I can identify and date diagnostic projectile points up to 10,500 years old, hold an intelligent conversation about prehistoric plains chronology, navigate my way through a bison jam, and appreciate the subtler points of Section 106 and Section 104 mandates. It’s hard to imagine that I’ve already been here for three months, and that it’s now time to leave. I feel like I could spend the rest of my life in Yellowstone and just begin to scratch the surface.
The mountain of work bequeathed to the archaeologists in Yellowstone is enormous. Most of the work comes in the form of compliance requests – every federal project that could feasibly affect cultural resources in the park needs to be approved by the park archaeologist. In a place as culturally rich as Yellowstone, the projects seeking approval pile up quickly. Additionally, there are boxes upon boxes of backlogged ‘problem artifacts’—remnants from bygone contracted archaeologists who never finished analyzing and cataloging their finds (or in some cases cataloged them incorrectly, which presents a host of new problems). A single person could occupy themselves for years trying to sort through the thousands of backlogged artifacts and projects. The job descriptions of Staffan and Robin, the park archaeologists, could read like war plans – defeat the compliance requests, conquer the mess of incomplete reports, do battle with the backlog.
Sometimes it’s hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel. While obsessing over the missing provenience information of a particularly interesting artifact, it’s easy to lose sight of the big picture. Luckily, all one really has to do is take a quick step outside—the majesty and beauty of Yellowstone quickly make one remember what’s really important. The archaeologists in Yellowstone are fighting an uphill battle; the artifacts keep coming in, new sites continue to be discovered, and compliance requests are never-ending. Despite this, the attitude in the lab and among cultural resource management personnel in the park is always positive. I feel lucky and privileged to have had the opportunity to help protect the cultural resources of this incredible place, and it was an experience that I won’t soon forget. I would have loved to stay and keep working, but I had to return to Stanford. Meanwhile, the archaeologists and others in Yellowstone will continue fighting to protect the rich heritage of one of our country’s crown jewels. Thanks for all you do.
Read more at the Out West Blog for Summer Interns »