Shovel Bum - Emilie Skartvedt
The average college student may not dream of heading to work with a shovel in hand. However, for those interested in the facts, lessons and insights to be learned from exploring soil and rock, the road to a career in archaeology is wide open.
Just ask recent graduate Emilie Skartvedt.
Skartvedt, who graduated in May 2017 with a Bachelor of Arts in history and minor in anthropology, began a position a few months later doing exactly what she was trained to do. The classes and opportunities afforded by CCU’s Department of Anthropology and Geography, facilitated by associate professor and chair Carolyn Dillian, made the start of her career a smooth and direct transition.
As an archaeological field technician with Westwood Professional Services in Minneapolis, Skartvedt works in the field of cultural resource management (CRM). Essentially, the job entails surveying land marked for development to ensure that no historical artifacts will be disturbed by the project. Any discovered findings are subject to state guidelines; some uncovered remains may merit a second survey and, ultimately, potential reconsideration of the project.
“The project could be a housing development,” said Skartvedt, “but where I work, it’s wind farms and solar farms. We get maps of the area with all the buildings outlined – the engineers have formal ideas of where they want to put things – and we walk the area and make sure they’re not going to destroy any historical evidence, so we look for artifacts like living remains or historical remains.”
A project may last a few weeks or up to a few months, and then Skartvedt and her team move on to the next site.
“We travel a lot, which is nice because there’s always something new to see,” said Skartvedt. “We’re out there with the locals all the time, so you can learn different things about the project you’re on. I’ve worked in Iowa, South Dakota, Minnesota and Texas so far.”
On a recent project in Pipestone, Minn., Skartvedt’s team worked near Pipestone National Monument, where Native Americans quarried red pipestone for generations for use in making peace pipes. Archaeological evidence suggests the pipestone quarries have been in use for 3,000 years.
“Pipestone is a location that was previously inhabited by native people, so that’s why it would be important that the land was surveyed to make sure that the wind farm would not destroy any artifacts,” Skartvedt said. “We found a few flakes – pieces left behind from crafting stone tools – and a lithic blade. We also found large scatters of historic ceramic from farm settlements there, so that was pretty cool.”
Dillian said Skartvedt’s position as an archaeological field technician, colloquially called a “shovel bum,” is ideal for students graduating with a degree in the field.
“This kind of job is what we actually hope for our students who have a focus in archaeology,” Dillian said. “With this position, Emilie will get a very wide range of experience in the field. She’ll work on many different kinds of sites, she’ll have exposure to a lot of different artifacts and excavation techniques in different regions, and it’s just an outstanding way for her to gain so much field experience while getting paid.”
Skartvedt said the classes she completed in the anthropology minor, as well as the field school Dillian offers each summer, were essential in helping her land the position.
“Every archaeologist is required to have completed a field school,” said Skartvedt, which through CCU is offered at Waites Island. “It taught us how to do shovel-testing and excavate a 1x1 meter unit, which is standard in archaeology. It taught us a lot about different soils and stratigraphy, how to identify what you find and how to do appropriate archaeology techniques.”
Dillian said Skartvedt’s path is an effective model for students interested in pursuing a career in archaeology, especially now that CCU offers a major in the field (established in Fall 2018). In Skartvedt’s case, Dillian was able to offer guidance and advice on several levels.
“[Skartvedt] was a very enthusiastic student, very smart, wonderful to have in class,” said Dillian. “In addition to the field school, she took my cultural resource management class, so she had classroom experience plus the field experience, and that’s what gave her the qualifications for this job. Also, when we were in the field, we had a lot of conversations about, here’s how you look for these jobs, here’s how you apply, here’s how you stress what kind of qualifications you have, here’s what you can expect when you’re offered a job like this.”
Though she spends her days sifting through soil and digging in the ground, Skartvedt also looks up and looks around to consider her future. It will involve many future projects and possibly a Ph.D program. For now, though, she’s in a favorable spot.
“It’s a good place to start.”