Indiana archaeologist loves diggings into the past

In this photo taken on July 26, 2014, volunteer archaeologists, anthropologists and forensic scientists from the Aranzadi Sciences Society and Association for the Recovery of Historical Memory of Burgos work in what it was a hidden mass grave in El Estepar, Spain. Across Spain, volunteer teams of archeologists, anthropologists and forensic scientists head out every year on expeditions to dig for suspected mass graves _ a legacy of Spain’s fascist past during the time of General Francisco Franco. (AP Photo/Daniel Ochoa de Olza)

CENTERVILLE, Ind. (AP) — When people find out Patty Glen of Centerville is an archaeologist, they often ask her about dinosaurs.

“That’s paleontology,” Glen tells them. “The focus of archaeology is on people.”

Since graduating from Purdue University in 2012, Glen has been working part-time as a free-lance archaeological field technician — also known as a “shovelbum.”

During the winter, Glen usually is on duty at The Two Sisters: Books and More on Fort Wayne Avenue in Richmond, the store she runs with her sister, Kate.

But from late spring to early fall, she takes off to join crews doing digs. Glen works through Gray & Pape in Cincinnati, Ohio, a consulting firm that is hired to do surveys of land before federal funds can be used to build roads, bridges or pipelines.

Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act requires such surveys. “This has required tens of thousands of archaeological investigations since the mid-1970s,” states an article on the law on the National Park Service website.

Tony Foster, director of metropolitan development for the city of Richmond, said surveys usually are called for when land has been undisturbed for years.

The purpose is to prevent historic or prehistoric sites from being destroyed.

Phase I surveys — such as the one that recently uncovered two small stone carvings near the Old Brownsville Road Bridge in Union County — include digs to depths of 10 centimeters or about 3/4 of an inch. The soil is put through a screen to check for artifacts.

If any are discovered, the project enters Phase II, with more and deeper soil tests. Finds during Phase II could lead to a full-blown excavation.

Glen has participated in Phase I and II digs in Indiana, Ohio and Kentucky but was not part of the crew that studied the Union County bridge site.

The work is physically and mentally demanding — and Glen loves it.

Crews can range from six to 40 people, depending on the land to be covered, the time allotted and whether it is a Phase I or Phase II survey. Crew members work on site all day and stay in hotels for the duration of the project. Glen said she’s become pretty clever about preparing meals with a hotel microwave and coffee pot.

Work begins at 8 a.m., which can mean leaving the hotel an hour or two earlier, since sites usually are off the beaten path. Crew members must carry their lunches, heavy equipment for setting up the screens to check soil samples and other essentials — such as an extra pair of socks.

Glen hasn’t forgotten the socks since the day she fell in a river. She keeps her gloves on since the day she rubbed her bare hand against a tobacco plant, only to discover she’s allergic. In fact, she covers as much of her body as possible.

“You know you’re doing it right if you look like a cross between a Goodwill find and a commando,” she told the Palladium-Item (http://pinews.co/1wtyVBR ).

One survey took the crew through a thicket of thorns, and Glen was relieved when a co-worker pulled out a machete to hack them down.

Only lightning will prevent the crew from going out. Rain — and mud — are frequent challenges. Glen said on bad days, she could be carrying around as much as 5 pounds of mud on her boots.

But she’s not complaining. “Part of the fun is just braving the elements,” she said.

What can be a bit of a drag is to do all that work and not find anything.

“The last dig I worked on … we did roughly two miles square and we found three arrowheads,” said Glen.

“It’s really neat if you do find stuff.”

Glen’s eyes light up when she talks about the thrill of holding an object from the past and thinking of the person who made it. “They were people like us,” she said. “Some of the things they did are absolutely ingenious.”

Glen’s specialty at Purdue was England during the Dark Ages, but she’s learning quickly about Native American artifacts. Part of a Phase I survey is simply to look at the ground while walking, keeping an eye out for bits and pieces of tools or other objects. “It’s an odd skill, but it’s a fun one,” she said.

The mental side of the job comes with record keeping. “It’s excessively meticulous,” said Glen. “You have to keep really good notes.”

But that’s fine with Glen. She’s fascinated with how people lived in the past. She loves piecing together the information from the artifacts to learn more about those lives.

“Too often, all you hear about are the kings and the emperors,” she said. “That’s not how 99 percent of the people lived.”

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Information from: Palladium-Item, http://www.pal-item.com

 

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