Today’s guest blog post is brought to you by AAA Intern Jeff Emerson. Click here to learn about all of the AAA Interns this summer.
My name is Jeff Emerson and I am one of the AAA’s summer interns. I have spent the past five weeks working at the AAA’s headquarters in Arlington, VA, and in the Underwater Archaeology Branch (UAB) of the Naval History and Heritage Command at the Washington Navy Yard.
I attended Luther College in Decorah, IA, for a B.A. in anthropology and chemistry, with additional classes in biology and participation in multiple music ensembles. Several opportunities have led me to interests in the fields of archaeometry, archaeological oceanography, and conservation science. Work in 2010 with the National Park Service at the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park in Skagway, Alaska, and an internship in summer 2012 with the Nautilus Exploration Program, locating and investigating ancient shipwrecks in the Black Sea, have contributed most to my ongoing search for a specific interest and career. My introduction to marine archaeology and notification of the Nautilus and AAA/UAB internships were provided by Dr. Dan Davis, to whom I give a big shout-out. My ethnographic interests have been focused on two trips to northern Tanzania, where I most recently volunteered in 2012 at a private secondary school serving the Maasai pastoralists by contributing to the establishment of a sustainable soapmaking cottage industry that utilizes traditional herbal and medicinal knowledge and Permaculture design.
While on the Nautilus expedition, I assisted Dr. Michael Brennan with geochemical research of the Black Sea’s stratified water column and the underlying sediments. This investigation became the core research for my senior capstone project, which seeks to better understand the chemical processes within the Black Sea’s water column and sediments, and how they influence the deterioration or preservation of archaeological sites left in situ. I have taken advantage of my location in DC to do research at the Library of Congress and will submit my paper this fall.
My Internship Experience
While at the AAA, my main project has been to investigate funding data from the National Science Foundation’s various grant programs, especially as it concerns anthropological research, and to identify trends and ways in which the AAA can utilize this information to advocate for the profession. Part of my time has also been spent helping a fellow intern contact recipients of the AAA’s Minority Dissertation Fellowship Program to conduct interviews.
At the UAB, I have focused my efforts in the conservation lab. After a few days of orientation and reading assignments to familiarize myself with the Branch’s mission, I began background research on the USS Huron, a post-Civil War gunboat, and one of the last military ships to navigate by both sail and steam. While en route to Havana, Cuba, for a scientific expedition in November 1877, she encountered a storm and ran aground off Nag’s Head, NC, where the ship later sank, sending 98 of her 134 crew, mostly Sailors and Marines, to a cold grave. Nearby U.S. Life-Saving Service stations were closed for the winter. The resulting public outrage over this and another nearby wreck led to more government investment in the LSS, which eventually merged with another coastal service to become the modern US Coast Guard.
Because the costs involved in recovery, conservation, and display of an entire shipwreck are prohibitive, the UAB currently encourages in situ preservation, except in rare cases where the site is seriously threatened by natural or anthropogenic causes. The Huron, like most shallow-water sites, is under constant threat of illegal salvage. One treasure hunter tried to sell several artifacts on eBay, but was caught by NCIS, who then forwarded the acquired material to the UAB. Our job is to clean and stabilize these artifacts, and then return them to the Marine Corps.
In order to help fulfill this work, I focused my efforts on a brass epaulette by: 1) obtaining a digital 3D scan and 2) photographing the epaulette prior to conservation, and then 3) assessing its current state of preservation and 4) devising a conservation plan. Copper, the main component of brass, is a nobler metal than iron, so it stands up better to corrosion. This particular piece is in relatively good shape, showing some bending and denting, but little corrosion that would affect its structural integrity. During this last week, I hope to begin cleaning the epaulette. Unfortunately my internship is coming to an end, so I likely won’t have time to complete the entire process. Besides this project, I have spent significant time troubleshooting our NextEngine 3D Scanner and adding to scanner and photography user manuals for future interns.
Life in DC
When not at work, I have tried to make the most of my time living on Capitol Hill. Living with twelve other interns can sometimes feel claustrophobic, so I often tried to escape the house by visiting one of the outstanding Smithsonian museums, cheering on the Nats, going for an evening run on the National Mall, or checking out a new restaurant or café. My favorite activity was an evening kayaking on the Potomac and beaching on Theodore Roosevelt Island, one of the few peaceful locations in DC. Less relaxing but equally enjoyable was a weekend excursion to NYC, where I sought out tasty, exotic-flavored Chinese ice cream, took a jaunt over the Brooklyn Bridge, people-watched in Times Square, and reflected solemnly at the 9/11 Memorial. The friends I have made during these weeks will hopefully stick with me for a long time.
I have thoroughly enjoyed my short time in DC, and given the opportunity, I think I could even make it my home for a time. The learning and networking opportunities afforded by these internships are invaluable, and it is possible my next steps will lead directly from this experience. I highly recommend this internship program to any juniors or seniors with interests related to the various locations listed on that website. I also wish to gratefully acknowledge the member-donors who made this possible for me and the supervisors and advisors who have guided me. Please don’t hesitate to contact me if you have questions about my internship or my other experiences. I would be happy to share.
All the best,