Isabelle Lulewicz grew curious about the natural world and how the people and animals have interacted in it over time. Thanks to a special team of mentors at her alma mater, the University of Georgia, Isabelle found her calling in zooarchaeology.
Tell us a little bit about your role!
I am a research archaeologist/zooarchaeologist for the American Bottom Field Station in Collinsville, IL. In addition to conducting and supervising archaeological surveys and excavations, I also identify and analyze the animal remains from archaeological sites to answer questions regarding past relationships between humans, animals, and their environments.
What drew you to your particular area of study?
I have always been interested in the relationships between people, animals, and the natural world. I grew up around lots of different kinds of animals and I was always spending time outside. Once I got interested in archaeology during my undergraduate tenure at the University of Georgia, things just sort of fell into place under the guidance of a fantastic set of mentors.
What do you love about working at the Illinois State Archaeological Survey (ISAS)?
Three things come to mind: 1. ISAS is really cool in that our roles as research archaeologists allow us to not only conduct compliance work that mitigates the impact of construction efforts on archaeological sites but also develop and implement our own research programs. 2. At ISAS we have a diverse staff with archaeologists who specialize in a lot of different things so you are always able to get a different perspective and work collaboratively to address questions. 3. Being a part of the Prairie Research Institute (PRI) provides even further opportunities for exciting cross-disciplinary and inter-disciplinary research.
What has been one of your most exciting moments at work?
Meeting all the great people of PRI and having the opportunity to further delve into the archaeology of Illinois.
What are some common misconceptions about your role?
As archaeologists, we are commonly mistaken for paleontologists. I don’t study dinosaurs. All of the research I do is on more recent, comparatively, animal remains associated with human activity. My timescale is the hundreds and thousands of years, not millions. We also don’t “dig for treasure,” “hunt for arrowheads,” or “hunt for burials.” We work with respect to Indigenous peoples and their ancestors
What’s it like doing this job in the middle of a pandemic?
I started here in August 2020, so in the middle of the pandemic. ISAS has been awesome. I have been able to work from home when able, we do a lot of fieldwork, and my weekly schedule is everchanging which all has made a big difference with the pandemic fatigue.
What advice would you give to those just starting out in your field?
Do your research. Talk to all different kinds of archaeologists in both the academic and cultural resource management (CRM) fields to get a sense of what your career options might be. Get lots of experience doing archaeology, either in labs or in the field, even just volunteering! Beyond the archaeology experience, though, develop a background in other fields that complement archaeology (e.g., ecology, geology, chemistry, biology, museum studies, etc.). My own work draws on methods and ideas from geology, ecology, zoology, and marine sciences! This background can be used in the interpretation of the past and can even set you up for a more diverse range of job opportunities. I am always happy to chat more with any budding archaeologists!