Participating in the Hidalgo County Public Cemetery Project (HCPCP), Spring 2018, has taught me how to conduct public archaeology within a cemetery. The great part about this course was that it was in the local area of Edinburg, Texas near the UTRGV campus. It helps us understand better the local history as well as work with the community.
What I learned in the HCPCP semester is how to collect data from each individual grave. With our personal phones, we downloaded an app called KoBo Toolbox that asked to input the recorders name, date and grave number. Each grave had its personal number marked in a flag, which was check-marked when data collection was complete. After that, we added the marker information such as images, descriptive appearance, dimensions, inscriptions, and of course if the name and date of the deceased are still visible. Sadly, some of the grave markers were underground or illegible, making it difficult to get the full name and date. Since we were only allowed to clear the area from weeds, it was not possible to uncover the underground graves. Some graves had only part of their name visible or part of the date whereas others had nothing visible. Yet, a lot of other graves were recorded with full names and dates. Perhaps for those monuments who were impossible to determine the inscriptions can be later found in the list provided by the HCPC owner. This is why it is very important to not miss any graves for later on the data can be analyzed to fill in the blanks.
Not all the graves were recorded because we ran out of time. There are about 90 graves still needing to be recorded in the KoBo Toolbox. Anyone is welcomed to go into the HCPC to collect data. For those who already known Dr. Sarah Row, they are free to go and help finish the recording. If someone else wants to do volunteer work that is possible as well. I am not sure if anyone can sign up through the Engagement Zone website: https://ez.utrgv.edu/ but it would be convenient if they could. Maybe that is something to think about, creating volunteer need or an event at the moment when UTRGV classes are over. But aside from that, anyone can contact the project coordinator, Dr. Row, to volunteer or for personal information upon the HCPCP project through the HCPCP website: https://hcpcp.wordpress.com/contact/.
Within our phones, there were some problems faced with the KoBo Toolbox app. One was that the app would overheat the phones, making the phones die in the field. Perhaps, this was the reason why some marked graves flags did not save the recorded data. To avoid this problem in the future, it would be best to bring portable chargers. Even more, some student’s phones were not able to download the app. For those students, they should be given diverse tasks, like placing new flags to the broken or faded flags, sorting already collected data at the lab room, using the Total Station, working with another student to record the grave monuments, etc. This will help the student feel needed in the course rather than lost since they have a phone that does not comply with the app. Aside from that, it was good that the app was able to save and later submit the recorded graves for some phones received no signal at the HCPC.
Another great benefit in participating with the HCPCP is learning how to use a Topcon GTS-753 Electronic Total Station. This equipment maps the top surface of the cemetery. The main task was to take four points of each grave to give a sized image of the monument. In this part of the project, we did not get very far because it is very time-consuming and only have one Total Station. I know that the team was thinking of getting an additional Total Station but it might make the mapping more difficult in the end run. There would have to be two stable points and then to add both information to the end result map can be overwhelming. I am not sure if other archaeologists have used multiple Total Stations, but if they have and it is not difficult to collect both datasets into one then two machines would be best. Hopefully, this can help the grave mapping pick up a faster pace. For the next HCPCP semester, it would be nice on the first day of class to go over how the Total Station works. Maybe even bring the Total Station to class and set it up so students can understand how both tripods work. Also, with the class projector, show the students how to use the portable device. Show them where we have left off and how to input the information. This will help the ones working with the Total Station have some background knowledge before using the technical device.
Aside from all the outside fieldwork, the course provided various readings that helped us the students understand how public archaeology works, data collection, benefits for the community project participants, and others, as well as how mapping can show historical markers. What was missing was actually reading about local history within the area. If readings about the region were included, the students can further connect their fieldwork with the region’s culture. With this, one can further appreciate the work that is being done.
An intriguing factor that stood out at the HCPC is how some graves were so old. I saw a grave dated from the U.S. and Mexico revolution period. How did they get there? Was that location their original burial? Or were they moved? Also, we saw that mainly towards the back of the cemetery there was voodoo dolls and other voodoo ritual practices going on. Maybe providing more feedback about such culture can help us understand more of their religious practices. I would like to know what they mean, especially the wax ball covered with thread that at times was found hanging from trees.
I did not mind the assigned reading responses, but I do think it might get old for some students that have already taken the course. If there are other projects that are more time to consume, like making a poster, perhaps that can replace a grade from the needing to do all writing assignments. Moreover, as discussed in class, having the students choose a certain grave to do research on would be productive. The student findings can be published on the website in case a family member of the deceased comes across the extra information or a scholar is doing research on a specific monument. For this project the students can be extra descriptive about the monument, find out information about the types of offerings that were left, research the deceased time period of life, research time period within the location, and if possible research about who that person was during his lifetime. The last part might be more difficult but unable to find free information about the person, one can describe the life roles during their time period.
It was unfortunate that the 3D iPad scanner did not work because of lack of good signal. For next class, ask the UTRGV if they can order a mobile hotspot or ask the class if anyone has one. If the internet hotspot helps the iPad function within the HCPCP then there is another task that the students can work on.
In class, you had mentioned that half the class will go to the field and other half be in lab fixing the records. I think in both places there has to be someone that has already taken the class. Previously, there has been little lab work so it is best to place someone in charge on the field to help you be more focused at the lab. Once the students at the lab get to know you and you get to know them, you can, later on, move from lab to field. I do think it would be a waste of time having all the students on the field since there are little students needed for the Total Station. Moreover, having someone that has already worked in the Total Station on the field would work best because they already did that type work. Maybe refresh with the student one on one so they can know exactly how to guide the students going to the field. Also at times, the tree branch would make it difficult for the students at the Total Station to be able to see the tripod triangle. If possible, provide gloves for the students to move branches or maybe even a branch cutting tool to cut small amounts. Finally, another thing discussed was to provide walkie-talkies so the students do not need to walk across the fieldwork in order to communicate. it was easier to use walkie-talkies than phones because of the lack of signal to some phone services and windy days. These possible resources will save time and make the field work be more trouble-free.
I really look forward keeping up to date with the progress that the HCPCP will make next Fall semester. It would be nice if pictures were added to the website about the students participating. If the work material does change, perhaps make students provide short journals to be blogged so we can read what will occur next semester. In all, I recommend other students to participate because it was a great class.