If there's construction planned in your area, one of the first people you may see on the scene is Patrick Green, the Central Illinois Field Station coordinator at the Illinois State Archaeological Survey (ISAS). As an Illinois native, Patrick knows the Illinois landscape quite well and is a wealth of knowledge about the history and archaeological sites all around Illinois and the United States! He recently answered some questions about his work, career advice, and why you don't have to travel to Egypt or the Yucatan (unless you want to!) to learn about fascinating ancient history – it's all around you!
Tell us a little bit about yourself and your role at ISAS?
I’m an Illinois native and U of I graduate, and I developed my archaeology career through Cultural Resource Management (CRM) surveys. These surveys are typically conducted in areas of planned development and aim to document and make preservation recommendations on any cultural resources, whether they are buried pre-contact archaeological sites or standing Victorian-aged homes, encountered by the State Historic Preservation Office. My job as the CIFS coordinator is to conduct and complete reports for CRM surveys and excavations in east-central Illinois and assist other field stations throughout the state.
What drew you to your particular area of study?
My lifelong love of ancient history began with going to museums as a child. My favorite exhibit then (and now) is the recreated mastaba at the Field Museum in Chicago. Later in life, I learned the USA has a similarly fascinating ancient history as Egypt. Through studying archaeology, I learned I could actively help preserve and record this fascinating history and get to travel to parts of the country I wouldn’t otherwise. I like to think that CRM is at the frontline of historic preservation and that I help record historic sites before they are altered by or lost to development.
What tools are indispensable to your fieldwork?
Of course a trusty shovel and shaker screen to sift soil from artifacts, but the most important item is a handheld device with GPS capability. They help guide us to and through project areas and accurately record findspot locations. They produce digital data that can be easily shared with other researchers and used for analysis. When I was starting out these would be 1/2 bread loaf-sized devices often coupled with a backpack-mounted antenna, now you can run apps through a smartphone and get just as accurate results.
What question do you get asked most frequently about your career?
“When is (the development project we are surveying for) going to be completed?” Often my survey crew is the first people landowners see before active construction begins on their property, so naturally, they want updates. We survey well before construction and often the project area will change mid-survey, so we have little idea of the developer’s timetable. Plus, we’ll recommend areas to avoid entirely that can complicate the development project.
What do you wish more people understood about transportation archaeology?
There’s a wealth of history and archaeological sites all around us, you don’t have to go to more famous locales like Egypt and the Yucatan.
What advice would you give to those just starting out in your field?
First and foremost, take a field school. You’ll get hands-on experience conducting archaeology at a cool site and you’ll gain lifelong contacts between your supervisors and your fellow students. Work at an entry-level position at a CRM firm to see if a career in archaeology is for you. Full-time employment in academic settings can be difficult to come by since availability varies by season and funding. Survey can be a physical grind and you’ll often be away from home for a week plus, but if you love to travel and enjoy the mixture of field and office work it can be the career for you. Develop skills outside of but related to archaeology to help further your career and broaden the discipline. Knowledge of GIS (integrating locational data digitally) is indispensable to fieldwork and later analysis.