SCAS Blog


The SCAS Outreach Program

by Kären Johansson

Special thanks to Charr Smith and Erik Zaborsky for their previously published articles in the SCAN, the Santa Cruz Archaeological Society Newsletter, and to Charr for the outreach documents she provided at the Cabrillo College docent training in 2012. This information was indispensable in preparing this document. Unless otherwise noted, all photos are by C. Simpson-Smith.

Although public archaeology conceptually has different meanings for different practitioners, many archaeologists share a passion to connect people and the past in ways that help bridge cultural differences. Archaeology exists amidst collaboration and dialogue among members of diverse communities and reinforces the notion that our history is a collective one. Public archaeology defines the place where artifacts tell a story and listening to many voices in the present allows us to hear those stories. The presentation of archaeology to young learners collates a physical activity, educational fun in the field, and brings the meaning of history and the discovery of a relevant past into the hands of both students and educators.

Photo of C. Simpson-Smith by Rob Edwards

Charr-Simpson Smith, retired archaeologist with Cabrillo College’s Archaeological Tech Program, in conjunction with the Santa Cruz Archaeological Society, spearheads one such effort. In 2012, Simpson-Smith launched a public outreach program to engage third through fifth grade educators and their students in Santa Cruz County. This exciting introduction to locally significant, archaeological heritage enlivens California’s history!

Docent Outreach

As a first step in the Outreach Project, in March 2012, Simpson-Smith invited local teachers, interested Society members, and anthropology students at Cabrillo College to attend a workshop entitled, “Outreach to the Classroom.” Participants attending this workshop held on the Cabrillo College campus in Aptos, California worked in small groups, examined local prehistoric and historic artifacts, and discussed ways to bring archaeological activities into a classroom setting. Discussion topics included map-making, artifact sorting and measuring, artifact identification and sketching, and other activities that are part of the “History-Social Science Content Standards for California Public Schools Kindergarten Through Grade Twelve” that became a formal part of the 1998 California State Board of Education Act. Many of the workshop’s participants had never seen or touched an artifact, and their excitement in observing objects that were part of previous life-ways was palpable and contagious!

School Outreach

In October of 2012, Simpson-Smith, Erik Zaborsky from the Bureau of Land Management and SCAS’ professional advisor, Dustin McKenzie, archaeologist and instructor from Cabrillo College, SCAS Treasurer, Cathy Phipps, and other volunteers went to Orchard Elementary School in Aptos to bring many of the workshop ideas into a school field. As if to illustrate the past’s ubiquitous interaction with the present, it soon became known that the Orchard property itself is a historic site with a number of farm buildings and artifacts in and about the school campus. With this realization, Simpson-Smith and her team, Orchard School teacher, Rob Owen, and Principal Jody Johnson devised a field plan that engaged students and teachers in an introduction to field survey techniques, the collection of artifacts, and basic archaeological recordkeeping. In a rewarding conclusion, students gathered at the end of the day and presented their “findings” to the group: the lessons they learned, and the fun they had in their discoveries.

SCAS’s Other Outreach Projects

In the summer of 2012, at the invitation of Dr. Charlotte Sunseri, faculty archaeologist at San Jose State University, three Society members of the Outreach Committee, Lyn O’Niel, Judy Husted, and Patrice Berry joined Charr Simpson-Smith on a visit to Dr. Sunseri’s field school, located at Mono Mills in the Eastern Sierra Nevada Mountains. Visiting an active field school that had a public component was an exciting way for committee members to enliven their participation. Trip highlights included working with Sunseri’s student-team doing some digging, examining artifacts, and learning about some of the student’s plans for work in anthropology and archaeology. Simpson-Smith’s notes and photographs of this trip are included in the summer 2012 issue of the SCAN, the Santa Cruz Archaeological Society’s newsletter.

For the Future

Public archaeology resides in a place where the study of culture and science exist side-by-side. It is imbued with principles of outreach and education. While it is a field anchored in the past, it continues to walk into the present, and to invite many voices to communicate the importance of connecting people in the present with a multi-vocal past, and of bringing a sense of stewardship into the hearts and minds of people living today.

When considered part of the discipline of archaeology, math and history cooperatively fulfill current, grade-appropriate educational standards. Archaeology in a grammar-school setting offers ways to interweave and complement these subjects. Hands-on interactions between students and artifacts provide ways for young learners to experience different educational avenues and explore how objects were used by people in the past. While archaeology is a study of the diversity of people living in the past, learning about difference points the way to an understanding and appreciation of similarity. Bringing archaeology and an appreciation of the preservation of endangered cultural heritage to educators and their young students is inspiring for all participants.

To continue supporting and implementing the outreach program, this blog will be a source of ongoing information about the SCAS Outreach Program. Additionally, the SCAS website will soon host online resources for educators and interested members of the public who would like to participate as research and / or classroom docents.

If you would like to be a part of this project, please contact Charr Simpson-Smith at.

Posted in Blog | Comments Off on The SCAS Outreach Program

Coastal Erosion and Archaeological Sites

By Jenna Tanner

My involvement in the coastal erosion project started in southern Monterey County during the 2012 Cabrillo College Archaeological Field School.  When we surveyed along the steep coastal bluff line of southern Monterey County, it was apparent that coastal erosion was in full effect.   While coastal erosion itself is a normal, natural process, what is abnormal is the rate that it is occurring at.  During field school, I visited six sites along this portion of coastline.    Two of these were very close to the cliff edge and both contained a large amount of artifacts and features (mostly flakes that have been struck off the original rock used to make various stone tools, some bifaces, and a few bed rock mortars) that would soon be lost in the ocean.   The field school survey is part of the Society of California Archaeology (SCA) Climate Change Project.   The project focuses on surveying the coastline for both previously recorded and un-recorded sites in preparation for the impending impacts of climate change.   The project is a non-invasive, intensive pedestrian land survey consisting of walking paralleling transects – this is a systematic way of walking the area to look for archaeological sites.

Climate change is a lasting and significant change in weather patterns over periods of time.   A number of things can cause it: plate tectonics and volcanic eruptions, solar radiation, oceanic processes, and even humans can influence a change.   It has a vast variety of effects on Earth such as the melting of ice caps, rising sea levels, and coastal erosion to name a few.  From an archaeological standpoint, rising sea levels have the potential to destroy archaeological sites found along coastlines around the world.

Months after the field school was over, I was informed that the SCA Climate Change survey project was continuing in Marin County in Point Reyes National Seashore in October.  A few friends from field school and I decided to volunteer.  We met up with Mike Newland, the president of the SCA, and went out to survey a portion of the Marin coastline.  The survey began after an annual data-sharing meeting.  While I was unable to attend the actual meeting, I heard that there were over a hundred volunteers that came forth after the meeting to donate their time.

As we walked along the shoreline, Mike instructed us to pay attention to the cliff area because sometimes artifacts are spotted sticking out of them.  This observation has stuck with me for some time now; this is what makes the destruction of archaeological sites due to coastal erosion real for me.  I knew it was actively happening, but to actually look for it made me want to look even harder for those artifacts that were about to be washed away to sea.  My crew spotted a few obsidian flakes along the shore where a site had been previously recorded.   We were able to use some of the skills we learned in field school to update the site record.  We walked transects to re-establish site boundaries, used a GPS to get the coordinates to map the site electronically and filled out the proper paperwork describing the area as it was that day.  I am unsure about how much damage has been made to the area since the site was originally recorded, but I did see evidence that climate change was definitely actively affecting it.  After a long day, I had to head home due to work the next day, but most of the volunteers camped overnight nearby to continue the survey the next day.

I volunteered my time again at Point Reyes during the last weekend in April, when another survey was planned for the SCA Climate Change project.  This time a new, smaller group of people came together.  The new group was students and professors from Foothill College and UC Santa Cruz.  We were very lucky to have been able to camp at a secluded area near Kule Loklo, which is a re-created village site of the Coast Miwok who were the traditional that lived within Point Reyes.  There were about seven crew chiefs chosen (some were even from my field school!) and the rest of us were paired off with them to make groups of four to five people.  I was lucky enough to get teamed up with all new people and was able to make a great connection with one of the members from Foothill College.

Shortly after pairing off into our crews, we made our way to our assigned area.  We lined up in our transect line and off we went.  We walked slowly through a large area hoping to find some artifacts, but our hopes were soon crushed due to the poor ground visibility caused by dense vegetation.  We must have hiked about five miles at this first site and climbed a 400-foot slope.  The next day, three groups, including mine, merged to take on a large portion Tomales Point.  The signs at the start of the trail indicated that it was a 9.5-mile hike, there and back, reaching a 300-foot elevation.  One of the crews we were with was out there the day before and pointed out an unnatural rock formation that stretched longitudinally across the land.  We continued our journey down the point, lined up strategically so we cover the entirety of the land in hopes of finding more important cultural constituents, but nothing turned up – that is until we went down to a beach area where there was a previously recorded site and found shell midden.  Shell midden is comprised of assorted dietary shellfish and midden soil and sometimes artifacts that indicate previous human activity.  After a long, exhausting day, this was exactly what we needed – we were all so excited! We soon wrapped it up at the beach to make our way back to camp to head home.

The archaeological record is non-renewable and can show us how the people before us may have occupied the area.  Once these artifacts are gone, we lose valuable information that could have potentially opened the doors to the past of the people that once inhabited the area.  It is said that thousands of sites will be wiped off along the coastline during the next century due to a number of social and environmental factors, such as urban development, sea level rise, and global warming.  We volunteer because we understand what we are about to lose and to better understand the effects of and future impacts of climate change on the preservation of archaeological records and I know I can’t wait to get back out there again to do my part.

Posted in Blog | Comments Off on Coastal Erosion and Archaeological Sites