My Three Weeks as Supervisor

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Katie working on a unit near MSU Museum, via Katy Meyers

During this month, our Campus Archaeology Commander-in-Chief, Katy Meyers, went abroad to pursue her personal research in Central England.  While she was gone I had the privilege to take her place as supervisor during what I can simply describe as an eye-opening two weeks.  I am here to share with everyone my inside look into the hectic world of being the Campus Archaeologist, and hopefully at the end we can share a new respect for all the things that go on behind the scenes of an archaeology crew.

In preparation for my stint as supervisor, I had been attending pre-construction meetings since early May. Pre-construction meetings are where all the various players of a project come together and discuss the timeline, projects, and projected outcomes of the construction at hand.  During these meetings I was introduced to the university contacts, company contacts, and briefed on the safety precautions for the individual sites.  These meetings are an important step in the planning process for the kind of archaeology we perform on this campus. After the pre-construction meetings, archaeological supervisors are in constant contact with the construction crews.  I had to make sure I was up to date on all the projects both by phone calls and site visits.  Construction crews contact us if they uncover anything cultural or out of the ordinary, and such a contact happened on my very first day of supervising.

On my first day of supervising, the West Circle Steam Project II project manager contacted me.  I was alerted that the crew had hit an unidentified cement structure under the ground where they were excavating a duct bank.  In the case of such an event, CAP must go to the site and document the findings as well as see if further investigation is required.  In this particular instance I took detailed notes, gathered the location coordinates of the structure via GPS, and took multiple pictures.  By the end of the next day, two more of these structures had been uncovered.  Proper documentation was completed on all three of these structures.  It was deemed that these structures were old utility units.

Surveying at Morrill Hall, via Katie Scharra
Surveying at Morrill Hall, via Katie Scharra

As a supervisor, I learned how important it is to be a few steps ahead or be able to quickly determine the next move. Planning in archaeology is key to being successful especially in summer weather were you need to get in and out of a site quickly.  One of the big responsibilities I had as supervisor was making sure the final survey of Morrill Hall was completed.  This meant coordinating with the construction company to find a time that it was safe and efficient to conduct shovel tests where sidewalks had been removed.  Sometimes that time ends up being right then, leaving little room for planning.  As a supervisor it is important to be able to plan effectively as you go.  This is what we had to do with Morrill Hall.   Unfortunately there were no finds. A detailed explanation of the dig can be found in a previous blog, “The Final Morrill Hall Survey”.

Other time digs happen with a decent amount of time to set up.  This is what occurred with the Landon Hall Survey. Planning for Landon Hall required more than just plotting test pits.  In a highly residential area, the supervisor has to look ahead at the locations of all utilities to make sure none are to be hit.  Campus Archaeology does this prep work by using an online software program.  The program consists of a detailed map including geographic features, buildings, and utility lines.  A successful dig uncovered multiple artifacts in the area.

My two weeks spent as supervisor taught me how much prep work goes in to planning sites from locating utility lines to understanding the construction projects.  Not to mention the amount of time and practice it takes to schedule and manage a crew.  I also learned the importance of being able to work well under pressure when there is no time to plan. Lastly, I learned just how much contact must be kept open between the project managers and you at all times. I think it can best be stated that being an archaeological supervisor is an easy way to stay on your toes and be both a well-organized planner as well as creatively efficient doer.


Author: Kaitlin Scharra

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