Archaeology center celebrates its 20th anniversary of work

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January 30, 2009

12:34 AM

The William and Mary Center for Archaeological Research recently celebrated its 20th year of research and projects throughout Virginia.

“We [had] an open house in our lab facility [in December to celebrate],” director Joe Jones said, in reference to WMCAR’s lab in the Campus Center basement. The center’s offices are located next to Wawa on Richmond Road. “It was an opportunity to invite interested people … to come see [it].”

The center’s archaeological work is known as cultural resource management, and involves surveying land that is scheduled for road development to see if it contains significant cultural resources. Determining significance can be difficult at the survey phase.

“It’s always some form of sampling,” Jones said. “You’re never getting the whole picture, you’re just digging holes and trying to interpret what’s going on in between based on those samples.”

The center may begin a more intensive evaluation phase if the site appears significant. Then, if the site still appears archaeologically significant, the data recovery phase begins. At that point, the center recovers artifacts, creates maps and takes photographs.

“The general idea being, in crude terms, get the information out of the ground before the highway comes through,” Jones said.

The center has been involved in other projects, including documenting historic buildings and interpreting the results of archaeological research for the general public.

The archaeology done by the center is different from what is learned in the classroom, Jones said.

“We have to be prepared for the possibility of finding resources related to any or all periods of history,” Jones said. “We’re better off knowing a little about a lot of stuff than a lot about one particular thing.”

The center, which is technically a nonprofit consulting firm within the College, was founded in 1988 by Robert Hunter M.A. ’88, who wanted to continue Virginia Department of Transportation surveying after Colonial Williamsburg stopped taking VDOT contracts.

Throughout its history, the center has worked closely with the College’s anthropology department.

Anthropology professor Martin Gallivan worked at the center from 1999 to 2003 before moving to academics.

“My job involved helping students at the College find educational and research opportunities that drew on the extensive body of work done by center archaeologists,” Gallivan said.

Today the center offers one graduate internship per semester, funded by the vice provost’s office.

“By and large, the vast majority of jobs in archaeology, or that involve archaeological training and education, are in this regulatory industry that we work in, much more so than jobs with museums or with academic institutions,” Jones said.

One former intern said he gained real-world experience at the center.

“The internship gives you an opportunity to sample all the things you would experience if you were employed as an archaeologist outside of academia,” Carl Carlson-Drexler Ph.D. ’09 said.

In addition to its open house, the center created an index of its reports for its 20th anniversary.

“[The reports] have a tremendous amount of historical [and archaeological] information in them, but unless you could talk to someone like me who’s … been here since this place started, you really have no way of knowing which report to look for,” Jones said. “So what we did is work hard to index all of these reports according to subject matter.”

The reports are available at the center for student use.

“[We’re] constantly thinking of ways to make our information more available to students and faculty,” Jones said.

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