Monday, April 4, 2011

What a long, strange trip it's been.
During the ribbon cutting for the City of St. Augustine's new archaeology lab, Mayor Joe Boles recounted the journey that the Archaeology Division has experienced thousands and thousands of artifacts in tow.  It gave me the opportunity to reminisce about my good old days working alongside Carl and the tireless volunteers who conduct the lion's share of artifact analysis for the city.

For 16 years, the City's lab sat behind the water treatment plant--a facility that the Division eventually outgrew. My memories include good ones, like listening to NPR with Helen, Pauline, and Margaret as we worked, chatting about the news of the day. I also have some sketchy ones--like going to the building next door to use the bathroom, even in the rain, even in the heat, even in the cold.

The old archaeology facility: Carl shows some of the collections to a visitor.

That lab was a two-room, concrete-block structure with some storage rooms for collections.  One room was Carl's office; in the other, lab work took place.  Artifact washing and drying, analysis, and database entry all happened there. 

Pauline (left) and Helen (right) analyzing artifacts in the City's old archaeology lab.

What you don't know about Carl is that, in addition to being nearly super-heroic when it comes to field work (superpowers include sensing rain hours in advance and sniffing out features), he's actually a ninja.  In that little building, where two rooms were separated by only a door, he could slip in and out of his office undetected; we usuallt saw him when he wanted his presence known.  Helen and Pauline were better at sensing his presence than me. Still even they were in the habit of making notes and setting things aside to discuss with him because we just couldn't sniff him out!

So stealthy you don't even know he's a ninja.

I think my most memorable tale of survival involves Carl's ongoing quest for a faunal collection. My desk sat right next to the door. When Carl and (former FPAN staffer) Matt Armstrong returned from Gainesville with the decomposing remains of a cracker cow, they set the gloves and materials used to collect it right outside that door. In the heat of summer. Ugh! I spent half the day thinking I was going to be sick from the smell, and the other half trying to think of something to do on the other end of the room.

I didn't think I would survive this adventure at the old lab, but I was wrong.
I can't say as much for the cow.

When the City remodeled the water plant, the Archaeology Division got a serious upgrade. We moved to the basement and second floor of the Government House, a historic structure in downtown St. Augustine.

Home of City Archaeology, 2007-2010.  You can almost imagine Helen waving from the second floor window!
What a beautiful place to work! I loved being walking distance from sites, and my office overlooked the plaza, affording a terrific view.

My office at Government House: this photo strategically taken so my friends would envy the view.

The problem with the Government House was that the City's collection filled the basement the moment we moved in. We were instantly short on space. To be really honest, there was a second problem: archaeologists are a little, um, dirty. When I see "Peanuts" cartoons, I secretly think the character Pigpen was moonlighting as one of us. Maybe not the ideal group to have tromping around your local historic structures for a long period of time.

In 2010, the City and University of Florida reached an agreement regarding local historic properties that left UF in charge of stewarding many structures.  Restoring the Government House necessitated a move, so the Archaeology Division was again in search of a new home.  Luckily, due to the generosity of local resident Dr. Sue Middleton and the hard work of city staff, an ideal facility was wrought:

Dr. Henry Bates, husband of the late Dr. Sue Middleton, addresses the crowd at the new center's ribbon-cutting.

A warehouse was expertly renovated by city workers, and City Archaeology moved into what will likely be its permanent home.  The new center features offices, an artifact cleaning and curating area, artifact analysis space with room for type collections, and plenty of artifact storage space. 

It's lovely to see City Archaeology find such a perfect home.  It was also terrific, during the ribbon-cutting ceremony, to visit with archaeology volunteers--the heart of the program, who have kept it afloat through the years. 

Always in service of City Archaeology, Pauline and Margaret serve refreshments at the center's opening.
(Warning: do not try to compel them to provide food service under normal circumstances. 
They are not to be trifled with.)

One Response so far.

  1. Margaret says:

    Great story, good history. We miss you. Margaret

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