August 2012 Features

GSAS: Preserving the Past, Making Way for the Future

Archaeology doctoral alumni find their calling in the field of cultural resources management.

By George Dila

In this project managed by Natural Resource Group, LLC, archaeologists excavate a prehistoric site in Wyoming prior to the construction of natural gas pipeline. Photo courtesy of Jon Berkin.

The headless statuette is not silver or gold or even bronze. It is simple pipeclay dug up from under a parking lot in Maryland, but to archaeologist Mike Hornum, Ph.D. ’91, it is an important and exciting fragment of American history. Archaeologists Jon Berkin, Ph.D. ’93, and Cinder Miller, Ph.D. ’95, share with Hornum that deep appreciation of the American past. Holding doctorates in classical and Near Eastern archaeology from Bryn Mawr, all three followed similar, though unexpected, paths to the field of cultural resources management (CRM).

While at Bryn Mawr, they had all planned on careers as academic archaeologists, but of the more than 5,000 working archaeologists in America, only 20 percent have university positions. Many find careers in unrelated fields, but private industry offers another option. There was little need for archaeologists in private industry until the passage of a series of laws in the 1960s—the most important of which is the National Historic and Preservation Act (NHPA) of 1966. It spawned the field of CRM by requiring that any land-altering activity, public or private, funded or permitted by the federal government be evaluated for its impact on historic and cultural properties.

Companies like the ones Berkin, Miller, and Hornum work for are responsible for those studies. Berkin is a senior environmental scientist at Natural Resource Group, LLC in Minneapolis; Miller is vice president of operations at Gray & Pape, Inc. in Cincinnati; and Hornum is a senior project manager for R. Christopher Goodwin & Associates, Inc. in the company’s Frederick, Maryland, office.

Under the NHPA, even a project as mundane as reconfiguring the parking lot at the Naval Air Station Patuxent River Officer’s Club in Maryland could not proceed without an evaluation and reports by archaeologists. The aforementioned statuette was found while Hornum was working on this very project, and it was not the only remnant of the area’s buried past. Excavation unearthed more than 21,000 artifacts that provided a snapshot of life during a time of social and political turmoil in the state’s history. As a result the state preservation office advised the Navy to abandon its parking lot redesign.

Miller and Berkin have had similar experiences. While doing compliance archaeology prior to the construction of an 18-acre mixed-use development on Cincinnati’s waterfront, Miller’s team discovered remnants of the city’s earliest settlements. And one of Berkin’s projects exposed an even older culture. In the path of a natural gas pipeline being built from Houston to Miami, archaeologists working in the Florida panhandle found the remains of a village estimated to be between 800 and 1,000 years old.

While CRM shares academic archaeology’s respect for cultural heritage, the goals for archaeologists working in private industry are different. “In academic archaeology, you go as far as you can go to study human history and culture,” Berkin says. “Excavations can keep expanding and take years. In the compliance archaeology we practice in private industry, we are restricted to the footprint of the project. Each project has a specific scope and a schedule. We have to finish on time and have conclusive reports.”

Berkin, Miller, and Hornum credit their Bryn Mawr education, particularly studying with professors James Wright,  Gloria Pinney, Dick Ellis, Machteld Mellink, and Brunilde Ridgway, for a training in archaeology that prepared them to adapt to unexpected opportunities. Says Miller, “When I took my first job in private industry, I figured I’d just keep it while I looked for a ‘real’ job at a university. But this has been a good path for me. I’ve discovered I’m a really good businessperson, and I play an important part in preserving cultural heritage.”

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