I have been with this course/project since it’s conception last semester and I hope to continue with it into the future. As an aspiring archaeologist, this course caught my eye immediately. It was the first course that I saw with a hands-on initiative in archaeology, and the only course I’ve seen since. Surely the success of this course will pave the way for future courses in archaeology. I have learned an immeasurable amount from it and I’m sure there are still more things I can learn from it further down the line. This course/project is immensely important not only to the community, but to us as students, which is why I hope to continue to be a part of it. Our work helps inform and engage the community, and as students, we are able to acquire hands-on experience in community archaeology.There have been ups and downs, as with all endeavors, but the change that this has brought and could continue to bring the community is what makes it all worth it.
Because I was already familiar with the data collecting strategies of the previous semester, getting back into the groove of things was relatively simple. I was better prepared to face the weather (although, thankfully, the days were not as hot as last semester’s) and I remembered to keep my cellphone on battery saving mode so that I could actually use it to collect data for the duration of our class time. Unfortunately, one of the problems I encountered this semester was that my phone did not want to upload several of my data entries. I then had to redo several of my previous entries with a classmate who had a better functioning cellphone (or better internet connection, I’m still not sure what the problem was). Aside from the weather and dysfunctional devices, there were no setbacks or obstacles which led to a very successful semester.
This semester, we were able to continue our data collection and very nearly completed data entries on all the marked graves! When we first flagged the more than 1,000 graves last semester, it seemed like it would take an eternity to complete. I wondered if I would even be able to participate in the completion of the project because the finish line just seemed so far away. However, with the popularity of the class last semester, we ended up with more helping hands this semester and we were able to accelerate our work. It seems this trend may continue. I am very excited for the next step in the project, which will hopefully be the use of GPR (ground penetrating radar) to locate more unmarked graves. In the previous semester, cadaver dogs were brought from California to sniff out unmarked graves but because of the close proximity of so many cadavers, the dogs became a little overwhelmed. Even so, they found around 20 unmarked graves but there are likely many more that we may discover next semester. Hopefully we will then have a better idea of just how many people are buried at the Hidalgo County Public Cemetery.
One of the best moments of this semester was being able to witness a family become reunited with a loved one whose grave had been unmarked and lost for many years. Through old records and the data entries of the graves surrounding it, Dr. Rowe was able to locate the lost grave. Moments like those are why this project is so important. Finding more unmarked graves may help us connect more families with deceased loved ones that they may not have been able to properly mourn or visit in years. This, of course, is one of the main and most important objectives of our work. We also aim to create a more welcoming environment for those who still visit these nearly forgotten graves and to provide them with any information we can. Personally, I was able to converse more with visitors at the cemetery last semester. This semester I did not come across many visitors with questions or comments, but I believe this was due to the fact that they were already familiar with our presence there. With that being said, I hope that we are able to engage more with the community in the future. I know that there are plans to have a community event for Dia de Los Muertos, which is an excellent way to engage with the community. Events like these could prove to be beneficial to all of us.
As a student, this course has had tremendous value. First of all, I have gained first hand experience with community-based archaeology. Having spoken to community members that this project affects has been very educational and insightful. I have also gained a lot of hands on experience with data entry and equipment usage that will undoubtedly help me in my future as an archaeologist. Working on a project that benefits the community has also made me want to participate in more community-based projects. I hope in the future I will be able to do so and apply the skills and experience that I have gained through this course/project.