Discovering a Future in Archaeology

by Jacob Hamill

I started working for the SCDNR’s Cultural Heritage Trust Program as a part-time archivist back in October of 2017, which feels like both forever ago and just yesterday (corny I know). In my time here, not only has this job taught me a tremendous amount, it has also widened my interests and has made me realize the vast professional world someone with a passion for history can enter. When I started this job, I was a senior majoring in history at the University of South Carolina. At the time, I was looking for a part-time job. A professor, who wasn’t even a history or anthropology professor, informed me that the Heritage Trust Program of the Department of Natural Resources was looking for help. I didn’t even know DNR had an archaeology division, but I was interested. So I sent in my resume, had a casual interview, and I was hired.

Speaking as a recent college graduate, I think students are taught a very narrow view of careers in history. I was the same way. Going through my undergraduate degree, I cannot tell you how many people I met that either were going to be school teachers, museum curators, or for them history was just a stepping stone to a law degree. It was not until I started working with the Heritage Trust Program that I really started to understand and appreciate the array of jobs and professions that are out there for people interested in history and archaeology.

My first project was to organize and manage the Heritage Trust’s library. While it is a small collection in the grand scheme of things, I think it is a handsome little library of now more than a thousand books (and still growing). And this project has taught me some of the challenges of being a librarian or an archivist on a micro scale, particularly having an efficient and navigable catalog system. This brings me to another major project during my time here at the Heritage Trust: organizing and digitally archiving the program’s paper documents. Paper files are of course easy to lose or destroy, and there is a need to digitally archive these documents, which range from background research on cultural properties to email correspondence.

I have also been able to flex my creative muscles working here by creating materials for a teacher workshop, as well as a number of lesson plans for kindergarten through twelfth grade. The lesson plans in particular are a special kind of puzzle, and they have me considering problems teachers also have to grapple with, like combining meaningful content with an engaging activity.

Of course, because the Heritage Trust manages cultural sites throughout the state, I have also had the pleasure of experiencing archaeological fieldwork. My first experience in the field was at Pockoy Island this past May at the Botany Bay Heritage Preserve in Charleston County. I found fieldwork to be exhilarating, a little intimidating, and at times, miserable, but always rewarding. It is one thing to learn about archaeology and the process of fieldwork in school, but it is another thing entirely to actually experience it in person (and in the summer no less). There’s something so enthralling about being at a historic or prehistoric site uncovering artifacts, analyzing features, and sifting through tons of dirt. I think it’s the physicality of it all that makes history seem real and alive, something more than what you read in a textbook.


Weighing discarded shell at Pockoy Island

And finally, another experience of this job is getting to interact with the public. I think it is incredibly important for those in charge of preserving, interpreting, or otherwise studying history to share their knowledge with and interact with nonprofessionals. Public outreach is such an important part of this field because history belongs to everyone, and because the public’s interest and support is crucial for maintaining what we do.

I want to thank Meg Gaillard, my supervisor, who has not only been great to work under, but has also provided me with a ton of learning opportunities and has shown me the richness of South Carolina’s history. I would also like to thank Sean Taylor and the rest of Heritage Trust staff who have been amazing to work with. Lastly, I would also like to thank Elise Lewis, the University of South Carolina professor that brought this job to my attention in the first place. Thank you all!

For more information about the SCDNR Heritage Trust Program and the Parker Annex Archaeology Center, visit heritagetrust.dnr.sc.gov.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed on South Carolina Wild are solely those of the authors, and do not reflect official policies, positions, or endorsements of activity or products by the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources.