(October 17, 2015)—I’m not an archaeologist, so the question I’ll answer is, how is it that I’m working for Archaeology Southwest? Logically, one would expect an archaeologist to work for an outfit that does archaeology. So here is a bit about my path to archaeology, and though it may not be the long and winding path of Jeff or Leslie, I will say that it has been a fortuitous one.
Archaeology has not been a burning passion in my life, but I have fond and important memories of visiting the public library as a young teen and immersing myself in archaeological accounts of Heinrich Schliemann’s work at Troy or Howard Carter’s discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamen. And, of course, there was a brief time when I got absorbed into the world of Erich von Daniken. Years later, fresh out of graduate school, I travelled to the Yucatan and Guatemala to see the fantastic sites at Palenque, Uxmal, Chichen Itza, Coba, Tuluum, and Tikal. In Palenque, I saw the sarcophagus lid at Pakal’s tomb. Of course I know now that scholars have convincingly debunked Daniken’s ideas about what the imagery and iconography might symbolize, but it sure is one provocative aspect from the ancient past, and the memory of it remains with me to this day.
But let’s take a step back. In 1977, with a B.S. in biology and a year’s post-graduation experience in lawn cutting and gas pumping, I followed Horace Greeley‘s advice and moved west. Within a month of landing in Phoenix, I learned of a field biology job on the Lower Colorado River through Arizona State University (ASU). My biology degree from Fairfield University in Connecticut was a pre-med biology degree, which meant lab sciences, not field sciences. Nevertheless, I was interviewed by Dr. Robert Ohmart, who asked me to go to the research station and get a feel for it, because everyone on the team lived in close quarters and needed to get along.
The day I arrived in Ehrenberg (birthplace of Barry Goldwater), I quickly realized that the field project was really a haven for serious bird watchers. That night, a beautiful evening in April (if you have lived here in the desert for any length of time you know how beautiful those evenings in the desert in April can be), one of the crew led a hike up a desert wash under a full moon. Using a tape player, he called in a western screech owl, which we all got to see through our binoculars. The wash glittered like diamonds in the moonlight, and soon he was able to get a light on a poorwill on the slopes of the wash. Its eyes reflected a curious reddish-orange. In fact, given the bird’s crepuscular coloration, the eye reflection was all that was visible flitting across the slope. I was hooked, and it was in deep. I spent a week there.
Although I was wholly unqualified for the position, my guess is that Dr. Ohmart was so impressed I had spent a week there that he hired me immediately. I was now firmly on a career path as a field biologist. I spent three years working for ASU, including stints on the Rio Grande below El Paso and on the Tonto National Forest; the latter work I was able to parlay into a master’s degree in zoology with a specialization in ecology. (Editor’s note: Andy’s commitment to the Tonto National Forest and the national forests of the U.S. Southwest continues through his work with Archaeology Southwest.)
It was while working on the Tonto that I saw firsthand the spectacular ruins on the east side of the Sierra Ancha Mountains and the cliff dwellings at Rogers Canyon in the Superstition Mountains. I got an inkling that Southwestern archaeology was more than the Arizona State Museum, Canyon de Chelly, Chaco Canyon, and Mesa Verde. I also learned that although I enjoyed research and the academic milieu, I was much more comfortable playing an active role in advocating on behalf of the environment.
Unfortunately, not unlike my undergraduate experience, my graduate degree did not immediately translate into meaningful employment. I spent three years as a scientific salesperson in Arizona and New Mexico. Looking back, it was actually a good thing, because I made real money that allowed me to pay off all my student debt, it enabled me to work independently (and actually work), and it provided me with increased confidence in selling people on an idea.
Despite the good money and independence, I was miserable. A salesperson was just not a career path I had envisioned. As luck would have it, a former graduate school colleague and current housemate got wind of a job with The Nature Conservancy in Tucson. Though I was rejected for the first position for which I applied, I was hired a few months later as Public Lands Protection Planner. The position was designed to work with the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management to protect areas of high biodiversity through administrative special management designation.
The job was ideal. Not only did I get to work with one of the premier conservation nonprofits, but my job was also a mix of field biology and advocacy. This was 1985, and when I was hired, there were three employees in the state office in Tucson (behind the old Bookmans on Tucson and Broadway), and four-plus employees on the nature preserves. Over the next twenty years, the organization in Arizona and internationally grew phenomenally, and I was there for the ride.
I soon had a number of career opportunities that pushed me further into an advocacy role as Director of Land and Water Protection, which included Government Relations, and put me front and center negotiating real estate transactions on behalf of biodiversity. With the reputation of The Nature Conservancy and a dedicated and skilled staff, I was part of a number of successful projects that helped protect thousands of acres of land in Arizona and raise millions of dollars in public funding. The tangible and direct sense of accomplishment that comes from buying land for preservation purposes or securing a legislative or administrative designation in support of preservation simply cannot be beat.
I met Bill Doelle in the mid-1990s, when he came to our office to talk about what the Center for Desert Archaeology (now Archaeology Southwest) was learning about archaeology along the San Pedro River. At the time, The Nature Conservancy had launched a major conservation initiative focused on the San Pedro watershed, and we were pleasantly surprised to learn that the archaeology there was of equal significance to the ecology. Little did I know that more than a decade later, I would be working for Bill.
Fast forward to 2008, six years after leaving The Nature Conservancy. Out of the blue, I received an email from Linda Pierce asking if I knew anyone who might be interested in a Field Representative position at Archaeology Southwest. I immediately realized that this would be doing some of the fun stuff I had done at The Nature Conservancy, but focused on archaeology. Wow! I knew someone: ME!
So here I sit, seven years later, working to protect archaeological features and landscapes. All the while developing greater familiarity with the breadth of our shared past. I take pride in assisting with the protection of several important parcels with significant archaeology, helping to raise the profile of an important cultural landscape along the lower Gila River, and promoting planning activities that will provide more complete consideration of archaeological resources at earlier stages in the planning process.
Andy speaks for us all with that quote from Walt Whitman. This concludes our series for International Archaeology Day. Thank you for reading!