Going into this class, I wasn’t entirely sure what I had signed up for. I was a little intimidated by the prospect of working in public archaeology because I was somewhat scared I would like it. All I knew about the class was that it was largely based off campus and would demand different work from me than a standard classroom setting would. As far as the course goes, it is exactly what I had always hoped to do in this region and so much more. I think I am mostly surprised that throughout the course of this semester, I heard no mention of the fact that a graduate student from TPA was actually the person who marked and restored a great part of the Restlawn cemetery across the way from the Hidalgo County Public Cemetery. I first heard about this student’s work back in 2013 when I decided to purchase a newspaper one July morning. I remember setting my heart on doing work like this in the future, and it was a moment I knew solidified my interest in anthropology in general. Fast forward to the end of this semester, and I got to experience some of that same work that this student put into the restoration of Restlawn Cemetery.
For example, some of the methods I got to use for the restoration of the Hidalgo County records of the Public Cemetery were online forms, GPS mapping, and spreadsheet/data processing. The online form turned out to be pretty convenient for the purpose of taking in data for the individual plots. The practicality of recording grave marker details via our phone was probably what lead to what I assume is an exponential improvement in input efficacy. I appreciate that the familiarity of our phone usage could help us record the grave measurements, marker conditions, inscriptions, and document the presence of grave offerings. From what I can recall, the majority of the gravestones were made of concrete/cement or a combination of materials where the former made up the majority of the marker. As I collected a lot this data, I anticipated all of the statistics that could be derived from our collective work. Being out there, rain or shine, felt pretty rewarding once the semester came to a close and we looked back on the hundreds of graves we put on the map this spring.
Another collection/recording method I got to work with this semester was the total station. Initially, I was taught by my classmate how to use it from the recording tripod, but I really enjoyed working at both ends of the station. One work day I got to record the points from the scanner tripod, and the other day I worked from the prism, or point of interest. It was obvious that setting up the prism required more than just moving it around the four corners of each plot. The days that obstacles stood in the way of mapping the coordinates from the total station, we would move trees to get our point read. This would make for some questionable bending of branches and jumping around, but all in all, I look forward to the results on our cartography medium. Although the results are not complete, I still would like to browse the map for future reference and look forward to connecting the located grave plots with the information we have compiled into spreadsheets.
Although I only worked with spreadsheets once throughout this semester, I look forward to possibly working further with this data in the future. I think that, although it was just one job, I learned a lot about doing work efficiently. Data cleanup proved to be one of the most fun aspects of this course. Analyzing what is left to clean up after inputting data into our forms told me that the system we have as of now definitely has room for improvements. This was apparent in the repetition of data sets and the missing data sets that failed to go through the forms. I hope to continue working on the data. finding the demographics of the cemetery, finding potential correlations and the implications for the community. I certainly hope I get to learn what this can reveal about the history of this cemetery and its business–knowing it used to be called a pauper cemetery already says so much to us anthropology students, but I would like it if it were as obvious to the community members. What was immediately apparent to me was the variation in attention and care that was put into the maintenance of the separate cemeteries on this square of land, and I feel like I speak for a good portion of my classmates when I say that it’s something we hope changes in the future. I think ultimately releasing or sharing these statistics can move more people to involve themselves in this public archaeology project, and will increase the likelihood of the change we hope the community makes in the preservation of this historic cemetery.
Something I didn’t get much of an opportunity to work on was dealing with the public eye or publicity for the project. The only family member to come my way while we were working on recording graves was a woman I had to redirect to Dr. Rowe because it was our first day out and I had yet to develop dialogue for what I was actually doing out there. In inclusion to that, I felt like I hadn’t contributed enough to the project, at least not as much as my veteran peers, to have any authority in speaking to the inquirer. What I was able to do was a poster presentation on the course as a service learning class. I had worked with Engaged Scholars before, and I must say I greatly enjoyed working with them once again for this group effort. It felt really great to hear the director of the program’s input on the HCPCP project and it was a privilege to represent Dr. Rowe’s work for that afternoon.
Any future direction for me in regards to this project looks like a continuance of my volunteering and potential re-enrollment in the class for the coming semester. For the course itself, I know Dr. Rowe and future volunteers for the project, myself included, would greatly enjoy use of the Ground Penetrating Radar for identifying unmarked graves and an opportunity to have the human remains detection dogs revisit. The ultimate goal of creating a permanent public record for Hidalgo County is within reach. I don’t doubt that the enjoyability and learning opportunity of this course could lead to it possibly being picked up in the future with other cemeteries. The hands-on archaeological experience within the RGV and affordability of the course as an option in our degree curriculum made the course all the more exciting. In the end, I know that what I didn’t get to experience this semester, I am sure I will get to see if I stick around until this project’s end.