Importance of Volunteers: A Guest Post from Addison E.P.

Here is a guest post from 2017 OU Field School student, Addison E.P. on the importance of Oklahoma Anthropological Society volunteers on the field school.

Students Addison E.P (right) and Jenny W. (left) at Deer Creek

Our excavation efforts would be futile without our volunteers. Several joined us throughout our dig, but there were two men who stuck with us every day. Mick and Barry have been doing avocational archaeology longer than many of us have been alive. Though not “formally” trained, they have both worked with some of the best archaeologists in the country on sites that changed the way we view North American Archaeology.

Despite being retired from careers unrelated to academic archaeology, these guys are just as knowledgeable and committed to the ethical uncovering of the past as any of us. When digging in Newkirk, Oklahoma you want some people on your team who live in the surrounding area and are well acquainted with the environment and many of the land owners. This is incredibly beneficial when it comes to surveying potential sites, connecting with the local people, and avoiding poison ivy.

Professional archaeologists haven’t always garnered a great reputation for being approachable or in-tune with the surrounding communities. Be it residual, old-school elitist mentality or just protective instincts against potential looters, many archaeologists are hesitant to get personally involved with people. However, while I was at the Deer Creek Field school I got to see professional archaeologists working closely with avocational archaeologists and engaging with locals, all willing to interact and learn from each other.

Because of the example set by Dr. Susan Vehik and Dr. Richard Drass in the Newkirk area, we students were able to visit other Wichita and older sites on private land. We followed Mick for the better part of a Wednesday afternoon to a few sites he had helped excavate over the years. The first was a Calf Creek site where he showed us a collection of lithics from 10,000 years ago and put us all to shame by fearlessly climbing down a treacherous embankment. He then took us to a quarry where ancestral Wichita groups would collect chert to flintknap. These field trips helped broaden my understanding of archaeology on the Great Plains and they wouldn’t have been possible without a willingness to engage with volunteers.

The Oklahoma Anthropological Society Volunteers help open doors otherwise inaccessible and provide varied perspectives that enrich a field school experience. It wouldn’t have been the same without them. Both Barry and Mick were helpful, creative, and always willing to let you borrow their sharp tools. Digging with these guys gave me a new perspective on the role of community outreach and the benefits of volunteer experience at a dig.

I got to dig with Barry and his terrier Squiggy on very hot days, very exciting days, and very frustrating days but he was always the same hilarious good-natured guy. Always willing to encourage and teach. The great thing about Barry is that even if you had monumentally screwed up, he would just shrug and remind you it’s not the end of the world, it’s just dirt. Barry would regale us with stories from digs with Dr. Lee Bement and the huge bison graveyards, rattlesnake encounters, his early morning fishing expeditions, jewelry making, and his time in the Navy. We relied on his wit to keep us entertained and his experience and skill to accomplish what we needed to at Deer Creek.

These men helped shape a memorable field school experience for me and so many others. In archaeology, it’s easy to get caught up in the competition of school and stress of career goals while losing sight of the fact that we’re all working toward a common goal of understanding the past. Barry and Mick taught me that none of this is all that serious, after all, why would you do archaeology if it wasn’t fun?