by Maggie Brousaides
University of South Carolina student
At the South Carolina Archaeology Field Day last fall, I was introduced to several archaeological sites throughout the state, from Richland County where I go to college all the way to the coast down in Charleston. I left with a much greater appreciation for the artifacts and activities engaged in by local archaeologists along with a couple Archaeology Month posters: one in particular depicting the Pockoy site.
Until I began my internship focused at Parker Annex, I was only looking at an interesting picture of the Charleston coast. After a couple months in the lab, the most gratifying and yet simple aspect of the internship has been my newfound ability to look at the Pockoy poster in my room and see more than just a picture of a beach, but rather the setting in which the thousands of artifacts and shells, which my fellow interns and I wash and help sort daily, had spent thousands of years. Over the past forty years, millions of artifacts have been recovered with their final destination being the lab at Parker Annex.
The physical laboratory and workspace in Parker Annex aim to foster creative approaches to the field of archaeology while principally engaging the public. At 9,300 square feet, the SCDNR’s state of the art archaeological center meticulously stores every artifact having been dug up around the state while additionally providing a laboratory space for volunteers and archaeologists along with office spaces for the SCDNR Archaeology team to conduct all of their post-dig work in a single organized facility.
This environment innately allows for public interests to readily interact with professional archaeologists—with volunteers and students encouraged to ask questions in a field where inquiring and grappling with possible answers remains at the forefront and only helps to broaden our multi-faceted yet limited understanding of the past through the archaeological record. As I have found myself washing shell after shell, my mind wanders about their origin and their function. Meanwhile, experienced archaeologists working around me use prehistoric tools and techniques ultimately seeking answers to the countless questions that emerge every day.
The laboratory also includes features pertinent for both the preparation and aftermath of archaeological work, like a library of its own for interns and students to explore their own curiosities. Something that I love about interning at Parker Annex is the interrelatedness of all of its parts and all of the people involved; the consistent ability to interact with professional archaeologists helps shape my own interests with each passing day in the lab. In the spring, volunteers of all ages are welcomed to the lab to help the SCDNR Archaeology team in their post-excavation work of washing all of the recovered artifacts before archaeologists can begin to sort and further catalogue them into a vast database accessible to archaeologists and researchers around the world.
Just as families and individuals are welcome to volunteer at Parker Annex, so too are school classrooms welcome to experience the laboratory as a field trip.
During the month of February, students from Springdale Elementary School took a class trip to the archaeology lab in which my fellow interns and I helped them wash artifacts and make their own pottery using prehistoric techniques. In its function to maintain artifacts from around the state, the laboratory itself acts as a hub for many different skills and facets that benefit the broader field of archaeology: for example, the lab has an electrolysis component where SCDNR archaeology Tariq Ghaffar frequently works, maritime archaeologists from the South Carolina Institute of Archaeology and Anthropology, who frequently work with the SCDNR Archaeology team, along with specialists on prehistoric tool-making who abundantly provide matchless insight into the past.
On a whole, Parker Annex functions with the preservation of the whole state of South Carolina’s natural and cultural resources in mind; yet, the lab’s user-friendliness and endless yield of new artifacts continues to foster the creativity of student researchers and aspiring archaeologists like myself. Even working with items discarded thousands of years in the past, I have found my internship thus far to be truly exhilarating due to the potential of illuminating our future understandings of life through washing, identifying, and mulling over the little things that comprised the lives of our prehistoric predecessors.
Have you ever wondered about ways that you can locally get involved as a student archaeologist or archaeology volunteer? The lab at Parker Annex including their weekly opportunities for volunteers of all ages along with high school, undergraduate, and graduate internships provide a unique window into the life of an archaeologist in South Carolina, be sure to sign up for volunteer opportunities and check out the Heritage Trust website at http://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.