Every infrastructure project relies on Environmental assessments to ensure that cultural and natural resources are preserved, and all regulatory compliance measures are met. Your environmental consultant helps you check those boxes, but do you actually know what it takes to get the job done?
You may think Indiana Jones, inspiring a generation of youths to want to explore ancient ruins. It may seem like a mystery altogether, and in fact, their job can be a little Sherlock Holmes-esque. Just like the environment is always evolving, no two projects are predictable or the same. So what does a typical day look like in a not-so-typical field?
Allison King is a Principal Investigator and Senior Project Manager for Percheron, LLC with more than 15 years of experience in environmental archaeology. Hear her view of a day in the life of the Percheron Cultural Resources team:
It's Not All About the Dirt
Things have changed dramatically since my early days using topo maps and a compass as I wandered through pinyon pines in the Grand Canyon. Advances in technology have contributed to improvements in field data collection, communication, and the application of science to produce better results. However, archaeologists still live in dirt and admit with great pleasure that our lives are in ruins.
A typical field day starts before boots ever hit the ground. We prepare for success in the field by anticipating potential needs beforehand and continue the evaluation of needs throughout the project. Our team completes thorough desktop reviews and reconnaissance to proactively identify any potential pitfalls, permitting issues, or other concerns. Knowledge of the type of project, its landscape, and existing resources helps to generate a more focused scope and trim out excess fat.
Employing the right people, and continued dedication to monitoring advancements and changes to our science and scope, ensures our cultural resource analysis is completed efficiently and effectively for our clients. “Well-equipped” is not just having the latest and greatest technology. It is also recognizing the capabilities inherent in the technology and having the experience with the devices and programs to employ their full potential. A well-equipped crew will also have the resources for understanding, reliability, communication, and knowledge. Communication between the field and the office is continuous as project data is exchanged. So once boots do hit the ground, they do it prepared to handle any obstacles they may face.
Panning for Gold? Not quite
Field investigations are focused on the area of potential effects that we identified during the initial desktop review. While we may not be chasing down lost relics, we are looking for pieces of history that may be overlooked by the untrained eye. Distinguishing a single piece of chipped stone amid a plain of naturally flaked gravels is just one of our superpowers. Another is reading the landscape, coupled with the needs of the project, to know how to get the most out of our shovel tests. No, they aren’t to find gold, dinosaurs, or Jimmy Hoffa. They are used to gauge the soils to tell us what kind of buried potential an area possesses, how intact the matrix is, and to identify subsurface cultural deposits.
"What is the coolest thing you have found?"
A common question every archaeologist has been asked is: “What is the coolest thing you have found?” Honestly, my answer is not flashy. The ‘coolest’ things I find in the field are resources where I anticipated them to be. It means I successfully read the landscape, used my knowledge, and accessed my resources. And when I find things where you wouldn’t expect them (looking at you, historic family dog burial!), I’m fascinated to add to the record and find out more about why the resource is there. Whenever my archaeologists identify a resource in the field, there is a certain level of excitement in their voice when they call me, no matter if it is a scatter of flakes or a cemetery out in the middle of nowhere.
Our field crews provide real-time observation and data collection, allowing us to effectually address questions and communicate immediately with the crew or client, saving the project from costly remobilizations or potential pitfalls. Their competencies enable the analysis office-side to be as advanced as possible. The identification of a cultural resource in your right-of-way may trigger headaches for some. But experience has taught us that by having good communication, we can analyze that resource as completely as possible and generate recommendations immediately. Whether it be additional shovel tests in an area to possibly reroute around a potentially eligible site, or checking to see if there is enough coverage to satisfy standards or scope, we continue to communicate and work together. Efficiency and reliability can produce remarkable results. So, by encouraging the use of technology, communication, and critical thinking, we have created an environment where our field crews are confident in their knowledge and abilities.
There exist many inevitable truths in this world. One of which is that reliable science cannot be based on faulty data collection. Our professional recommendations and determinations hinge on dependable data collection. Reliable results manifest through the synchronicity between the field and the office. This starts with a well-equipped field crew backed by project management determined to effectively navigate toward the successful completion of a project.
I am enthusiastic to continue developing and refining our methodologies to provide reliable data; data our clients can put their trust in. Percheron’s pro-active approach to identifying potential permitting hazards lessens the potential for delays that could jeopardize timelines, budgets, and project planning.
Written By: Allison King, Principal Investigator and Senior Project Manager | Percheron
Allison King has been a professional archaeologist for nearly 20 years, but has been interested in archaeology and history her entire life. Growing up in Virginia, one of her favorite pastimes was digging up the backyard. Innocuous to some, but when your home is situated within the campground of a Civil War battlefield, you tend to find… things. Once she realized this was an actual career choice, there was no going back. Allison worked for the National Park Service before making the jump into consulting where she continues to successfully navigate the ins and outs of regulatory permitting. In her spare time, Allison enjoys dragging her two sons and long-suffering husband to renaissance fairs and living history museums, practicing traditional longbow archery, sewing, and being in a perpetual state of Halloween preparation.