This week’s volunteer spotlight post is an interview with some of TARL’s long-term volunteers, who turn up every week to work on collections from the Texas Archeological Society’s annual Field Schools. The TAS and TARL are lucky to have these wonderful ladies around!
Lauren: How long have y’all been volunteering here and what do you do as volunteers?
Jonelle: I think I started around 2004 volunteering for the Gault project, who occupied this very building at that time. I was working on a collection that was recovered by a Texas A& M field school that was held at the Gault site one summer. So we were naming and labeleing artifacts that had been recovered and doing the paperwork necessary that hadn’t been done, and we set up a big table right over there. All the Gault people would come and go, and they had various little office spaces in this building, and I got to meet a lot of interesting people. And then Gault left and they went to San Marcos.
After they vacated this building, then Laura Nightengale came to me and said, something to me about how would I like this space, you know, for a TAS lab? That was fine. This is kind of a holy room because this is where all the Gault goodies were locked up! Under lock and key. Cameras and all that. Without having all that here anymore, it’s just kind of exciting to be working in the same space occupied by the mammoth jaw and all that important stuff. Now it really was! I got to know all those people, they’re very fine folks, and they must be doing well as far as I know. But anyway that’s how we inherited this workspace. And that was beginning in maybe 2010 or later. I’ll have to check and find out when Gault moved…. And as time went by, we worked on different field school projects here in this room.
Lauren: (to Bunny and Pat) So did you guys start out volunteering for Gault also?
Pat: No, that was before my time in this lab, and I can’t remember how long I’ve been volunteering out here… three years?
Jonelle: I don’t know, it just seems like forever.
Pat: It does. I want to say three years. I’ve been a member of TAS since 2003. I learned about it after I had retired from teaching and started going to the field schools. I enjoyed going to the field schools, and I learned that Jonelle could use some volunteers working on the Hondo artifacts from the Eagle Bluff area. And so that’s how I got started here. And I learn a lot every day, and you get to see such beautiful artifacts and meet all the wonderful archaeologists working here, so it’s been a real growth experience. I love it. And I love the campus too. There’s something about driving onto this little bit of sanity in this big city, that every time I make that corner—although it’s a very scary turn! (laughter)—I feel peace. It’s just peaceful.
Lauren: How about you, Bunny? How long have you been volunteering?
Bunny: I’ve been volunteering here about a year and a half. I came in the summer last year, early summer when we were washing all those artifacts from the field school and we needed lots of people to help with the washing to get it going forward. But I just kinda… stayed around. I just kept showing up like an old bad penny! (laughter)
Pat: Because I’m old, I would have said you’ve been here at least three months! (laughter) So I think I’ve been here longer than three years. Multiply by two!
Bunny: Every time I think it’s a certain time, it’s usually double. But this I do remember. It’s been about a year and a half. My first field school was at the Devil’s River in 2012? And that was exhausting and very very hot because I was working in a field on a burned rock midden. But now when I go to the field school I work in the lab. I really enjoy seeing all the artifacts come through.
By profession I’m an artist and I work in ceramics, so I’ve always been interested in toolmaking and how things are shaped and made. So that gives me an additional interest in why things are shaped the way they are, and I really love it. I’ve learned so much since I’ve been here, and that’s one day a week, not even a full day, and it’s such a joy that you get back for that little bit of time.
Lauren: So tell me about some of the coolest and most fun things that y’all have found in the lab.
Pat: Oh golly!
Jonelle: Well we find interesting things every day. Today’s joy is that bottle. We have a complete bottle, this is stuff from the trash pile, and we found a complete bottle that wasn’t in pieces. It was hand-blown into a mold, and we learned all about it from Elton. We didn’t know any of this stuff.
Bunny: And last week he told us about the bitters bottles, the log cabin bitters bottles, because we found some fragments.
Lauren: Oh, wow! That is so cool! That’s so cool looking!
Pat: Yeah we found a bunch of pieces in this collection, probably a whole bottle if we put it back together.
Jonelle: People used to drink bitters because alcohol was a bit of a no-no, so they just got their alcohol from bitters.
Bunny: They could call it medicine and have a good time. (laughter)
Pat: I think we’ve seen the whole gamut, from working at least on the previous Hondo stuff, the whole gamut, or at least early Archaic artifacts all the way up to historic artifacts. It gives you a much more tangible sense of history. I have a much more tangible sense of history now, and it’s really broadened my interest in learning more about historic times. I was always more interested in prehistory, but now I’m really becoming more and more interested in the last three hundred years, I would say.
Lauren: That’s so interesting, that archaeology would be what brings you to that, because you might think that it would increase your interest in prehistory rather than the historic period.
Pat: It made me see how it’s all just one continuous evolution.
Jonelle: Well, you know, so you come here and you have doors opened for you, and you weren’t expecting it, and things happen that just sort of, gives perspective to what you’re doing.
Lauren: So let’s see. What about your field experiences? Can you tell me about any really fun or super memorable field experiences that you guys had?
Lauren: You can’t talk about them? (Laughter)
Bunny: I went on the death march down at the Devil’s River.
Lauren: That sounds horrible!
Bunny: It was horrible! We all got a “treat” a couple, three times a week, to go on a walk to go see something special. It was organized and you signed up for these different treats they would set up for you. So Peter and I signed on to go see the painted under-cliffs, I can’t remember what that particular one was called.
Pat: Was it the crab? Or a sunrise?
Bunny: Yeah there was a sun there.
Pat: Rock art.
Bunny: And we got there after our sack lunch that we brought that day, because we finished working at noon, because it was so hot, we weren’t working until one o’clock. So we quickly ate our sack lunch we brought and we showed up at the parking lot and met our guide, with the group of people who had signed up. And it was a hundred and two in the parking lot. So we proceeded to walk pretty slowly about a half a mile to this archaeological site that was stunning and beautiful, but I tell ya, we almost lost someone along the way! We had to really go really slowly with lots of breaks. This poor woman almost didn’t make it. Anyway, by the time we got to dinner that night about five-thirty in the evening, people were already talking about the death walk (laughter). And I said, “oh, is that what it was called? I was on that!” It was a hundred and six when we got back to the hotels. So they canceled those tours until they could figure out a short cut to drive the cars in. We were really working with very difficult temperatures.
Lauren: That doesn’t seem like a treat.
Pat: Well in retrospect it really becomes one of your most memorable experiences because you survived it.
Bunny: Yeah, that’s right.
Pat: Most of my most memorable experiences are all weather-related. (Laughter)
Jonelle: I can understand that.
Pat: I was very happy, my goal at Devil’s River was to survive. I was on survey. I’d never been on survey before, and you’re going down in to the canyons and up the sides.
Bunny: Wearing your snake guards.
Pat: Yes, we were just looking carefully and trying not to get lost from the group. I really quit looking for artifacts, I just looked at my feet the whole time. All I saw were my feet, because I was watching where I was putting them. But my favorite thing, and this is… one of my favorite things is discovering how adaptable archaeologists are, the people that go to field school. At Perryton, which is a death trap for tornadoes, and bad storms, oh tents were destroyed one year. My car levitated, actually, while I was in it once. But it hailed…
Jonelle: (Laughs) Yes it did!
Pat: The hailstones were as large as softballs.
Jonelle: Yes they were!
Pat: And it was crazy, chaos for a while. Then it’s all over, it passed pretty rapidly, and then all the archaeologists come out, and they’re gathering the hailstones to put in their ice chests, because then you don’t have to go buy a bag of ice! (laughter) And I just thought, I love it! I love these people. It’s like, oh, that was bad, look at my truck, it’s all dented up, BUT! I’ve got ice.
Bunny: And this is all volunteering, but at field school we actually pay money for it! (Laughter) And then we volunteer on top of it!
Pat: I just love that in those people.
Jonelle: You just make the best of it. And everybody looks out for everybody else, you know. If your tent blows down and you’re in town or something, you come back and it’s properly put up for you again. It’s like summer camp for grown ups.
Pat: It really is, only we’re nicer to each other than children. (laughter)
Lauren: You have a good field school story, Jonelle?
Jonelle: Well, nothing stands out in my mind. My first field school was 1990 and I’ve been to every one except one. I missed 1999. But every year, seeing your old friends and just making new friends every year. Tent camping was a wonderful experience. I did that many years, I guess until 2009. Eight. 2008, switched to a camper. I worked on digging crews all those years, and switched to lab when I started the newsletter, so that would be… 2003 I switched to lab. I wanted the flexibility of being able to get up and walk out and take pictures for the newsletter, and have a little more freedom than you have when you’re on a work crew. So I”ve been in the lab ever since.
So after that first field school, I just met the most wonderful people, you know, right off the bat, and I’m still friends with everybody, and it’s just kind of been a good experience for me. I’ve met the neatest people I’ve ever known in my whole life in this TAS group.
Pat: Me too.
Jonelle: The most interesting, exciting, vibrant, funny, smart. Just…
Jonelle: Oh, strange is the norm.
Pat: And I would say in addition, ditto to all that, and I think the bottom line is just sort of a humanity. There’s no B.S. There’s just a down to earth way of looking at life, accepting people from all walks of life. The levels of education vary from… All levels, and yet everyone’s considered equal.
Jonelle: No one’s better than anyone else.
Pat: No one’s better than anybody. One of our resident scholars is the man who knows all about insects.
Pat: He comes to field school, and they call him Bug Man, and he’s proud to be called bug man. And I think he works as a maintenance guy. And I’d put him up with any Ph.D. entomologist in the world. So I just love that about it.
Jonelle: You wanna know what this bug is, you go find Mark and he’ll tell you all about it.
Lauren: Even though he’s not a research scientist at a university, he’s the guy.
Pat: I think you’ve described it there. It’s the passion. It’s the passion you’ve got for something, and he’s got it, and it’s self taught.
Lauren: So just two more questions. First question is, what advice would you give to young people, students or young professionals, who are working in archaeology or want to be working in archaeology?
Jonelle: Besides its importance, and some of us do think it’s important, it’s fascinating, it’s interesting, and you meet the best people in the world out there who are interested in this work. But it’s like any other job, parts of it you like, and parts of it you might not like as much. But it all needs to be done, it’s all part of the big picture.
Pat: I agree, ditto to all that. Plus, volunteer as much as you can, whenever you can, because you never know who you’re going to meet or what they’re going to know, or how they can lead you to areas that you never anticipated. So, what’s that called? Network. Network, network.
Jonelle: Very important. Join the professional organizations so that you can network, and keep in touch with what other people are doing out there in the field, researching and whatnot. It’s all who you know.
Bunny: Well I don’t have children, but I have nieces and nephews, and I tell them, learn something new every day, and I take that very seriously. I think you should be very curious about the world around you and seek out knowledge. And obviously you’re going to seek out knowledge that of the most interest to you, that’s a fine thing.
Pat: And I think it could apply in any field, but, do something that, if you can, is just a little bit outside of your comfort zone. Some things are very easy, even a new thing, oh that’s easy for me, I’ll do that. But sometimes there’s something that you have to be a little bit afraid to try, and that’s when you really learn the most.
Jonelle: Field school has been that way for me. All the time.
Pat: Yeah me too. I was terrified the first time.
Jonelle: “Here, do this,” “Who, me?” “Oh, it’s easy, we’ll show you how.” The first time I was crew chief I was thinking, what, me? (laughter) I was scared to death, you know. But all it was, was filling out a lot of paperwork that other folks didn’t have to do. (laughter) That’s part of it. But you learn. And sometimes they want you excavating, like, “ooh, I get to do this one? This is going to be hard.” But you just get in there and do it. And it gets done. And when you have a cooperative crew that certainly makes all the difference. Everybody comes pretty much eager to get going and do the work. It’s therapeutic, you know, getting out there in the dirt. All your cares and your worries just melt away. You’re communicating with the earth down there, and thinking about what you’re doing and what you’re looking for and what it’s all about. It’s a neat thing.
Lauren: Last question. So when I started this job, I think it was my first week here or my second week maybe. The first time that I met you guys, this group of ladies, you were having a conversation that really let me know that this was the right place for me. (laughter)
Pat: (whispers) Oh, no.
Lauren: And the topic of conversation was, which archaeologists have the cutest butts? (Laughter)
Pat: Really? Oh I’ve forgotten that. I can’t remember that at all. What did I say?
Lauren: Well I don’t know, so what’s the answer? (laughter)
Pat: Which archaeologists have the cutest butts?
Jonelle: The ones that show up! (laughter)
Pat: In my age group?
Bunny: Does that mean instead of the plumber’s crack we were talking about the archaeologist’s crack?
Jonelle: Well if your jeans are too tight, you can’t squat down, so I don’t know. But it’s just kind of nice to meet a person younger than you, and is excited about what they’re doing, and will check in with your unit to see how you’re coming along, and get you involved in doing things out in the field and in camp too. Camp life is really important at field school. You really get to know people then. The good, the bad, & the ugly. We just keep coming back every week, can’t get enough. We love it here.
Lauren: This project wouldn’t be the same without you ladies at all. This work wouldn’t be getting done, and it needs to be.
Bunny: I have to say, that was a pretty big education for me, of how detailed and layered this process is. Of course I knew that archaeologists went out into the field and found things, and wrote them down, and then eventually something might be published about it. But I had no idea the gap in between and what that entailed. And we need volunteers.
Pat: We need a lot of volunteers.
Bunny: It’s a lot of work that goes into that operation.
Jonelle: And that’s why I do this, because otherwise we’d get hung up. It comes in from the field and then what? It languishes. You don’t follow through with it, and I was aware of all this, like the collections you’ve been working with, and other collections too, that so much needed to be done, that wasn’t getting done, and I thought, well, I can do that. I know how to do that, I’ll do that. And you can give an association money, but that doesn’t necessarily get the work done, you know. So I just don’t mind coming up here, and doing the grunt work, and making friends and having a good time.
Bunny: It’s a win-win situation as far as I’m concerned.
Jonelle: Gets me out of the house and I get to meet new people.
Bunny: And we always find something to laugh about.
Jonelle: If someone were to come out here and be grumpy, that wouldn’t go over at all.
Pat: Well I just don’t think it would attract a grumpy person.
Jonelle: They wouldn’t like the work.
Pat: They wouldn’t like us!
Jonelle: You don’t see the humor in the work… (laughter)
Bunny: That’s right, Jonelle, you have to see the humor in being down in some pit where it’s a hundred and five degrees and you’re scraping a layer out.
Jonelle: Thinking, what am I doing here? Look at my nails!
Thank you very much to Jonelle, Pat, and Bunny for taking the time to do this interview, and for all the time that you volunteer to help TAS and TARL take care of these collections. It is a pleasure to have you around!